University launches joint venture to help newborn resuscitation

22 Dec 2014 13:43:27.087

The University of Nottingham has formed a new joint venture business with Derby based electronics specialist, Tioga, to develop a unique technology which will allow the continual monitoring of a baby’s heart rate during resuscitation.

Around 80,000 babies born in the UK every year are in need of some form of resuscitation. Delay with resuscitation can increase the chance a baby may develop brain damage or die.

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The best measure of the need for resuscitation, and how effective it is, is assessment of the newborn’s heart rate which is currently performed every 30 seconds with a stethoscope during the resuscitation process. However, this is subject to human error, delays the resuscitation and may fail to detect sudden problems.

Continual resuscitation
The idea behind the HeartLight sensor is to allow doctors and midwives to continue resuscitating the baby without the need for frequent pauses to check the heart rate thus ensuring smoother and quicker resuscitation reducing the risk of long-term damage.

The technology was developed by a team (Professors Hayes-Gill, Crowe and Morgan along with Dr Mark Grubb) at the University’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) department, in collaboration with academic neonatologists (Dr Don Sharkey) in the University’s School of Medicine. ‘HeartLight’ uses a small optical sensor which is placed on the baby’s head and shines a special coloured light onto the skin tissue, and a sensor is able to detect each time a pulse occurs.

Funding for the initial development of HeartLight within the University came from a variety of different sources, including a series of early EPSRC awards and a children’s charity (Action Medical Research) which funded a two-year project in 2007 to enable researchers to evaluate use of the sensor in more than 90 babies. More recently the University was awarded a grant from the Medical Research Council to increase the number of babies recruited in the study to over 200.

Making Heartlight commercially viable
Professor Barrie Hayes-Gill, from The University of Nottingham, led the team assessing the reliability and ease of use of the technology, and fine-tuning its design. The sensor was first tested in stable newborns, who didn’t need resuscitation. Then it was used during resuscitation of two groups of babies - some born at full term by planned caesarean section and other babies who were born very prematurely.

The new business with Tioga will be known as ‘HeartLight Systems Ltd’ and will work to make HeartLight a commercially viable product.  A BioMedical Catalyst grant of £1.7m has recently been awarded by the funding agency Innovate UK (formerly Technology Strategy Board) to enable the company to further develop the technology towards clinical reality.

Tioga’s relationship with The University of Nottingham started just over four years ago, following a chance conversation between Professor Hayes-Gill and Warwick Adams, the Managing Director of Tioga. As Tioga undertakes work in the mining industry, Mr Adams was curious as to whether the technology could potentially be developed to monitor the wellbeing of miners while working underground, and a TSB Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP following on from an EPSRC KTS award) involving a post-doctoral engineer from the University was put into place to investigate this idea further.

Offering the very best in research and manufacturing
Speaking about the formation of the new business, Professor Barrie Hayes-Gill, said: “The launch of HeartLight Systems Ltd is a very exciting development. It combines the academic, technology transfer and medical regulatory expertise of The University of Nottingham with the commercial know-how of Tioga. It means that we can offer prospective customers across the world the very best in research and manufacturing capabilities in a clinical setting.”

Russell Hoyle, Chairman of Tioga, added: “I firmly believe that the opportunities for HeartLight are huge. With its potential applications in the medical and mining sectors, amongst others, it has tremendous potential for social impact. I’d like to thank Barrie and the rest of the team at the University for all their hard work in developing the technology, this is a very exciting project and we are really looking forward to partnering with them on the next stage of HeartLight’s journey.”

Susan Huxtable, Director of Intellectual Property and Commercialisation at The University of Nottingham, added:  “The establishment of Heartlight Systems Ltd and the investment via the BioMedical Catalyst Grant will enable the company to move forward in its aim to commercialise this exciting technology.

A great team effort
"It has taken a great team effort to get Heartlight to the position where it is today, and the technology is a great example of how University of Nottingham research has the potential to really benefit society more widely.”

Heartlight Systems Limited has at its helm Dr James Carpenter as its Chief Executive Officer who has previously completed a PhD in Nottingham (EEE) on research into blood flow of the human body. This expertise will be extremely beneficial for further development of HeartLight looking into the possibility of using the sensor to detect blood oxygen levels, newborn breathing rates and to explore the use of the sensor in other ‘wearables’ such as wrist and ankle bands.

For more information about HeartLight, or for details of investment opportunities in HeartLight Systems Ltd, please contact Dr. George Rice in The University of Nottingham’s Intellectual Property and Commercialisation department, on or telephone +44(0)115 82 32190.

For further information about the University’s services for business, visit


More information is available from Nick King, Marketing Projects Manager, University of Nottingham, +44 (0)115 82 32184, or email:

Photo shows, left to right: Professor Barrie Hayes-Gill, University of Nottingham; James Carpenter, Chief Executive of Heartlight Systems Ltd, Warwick Adams, MD of Tioga.

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also the most popular university in the UK among graduate employers, one of the world’s greenest universities, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development’. It is ranked in the World’s Top 75 universities by the QS World University Rankings.

About HeartLight: HeartLight was developed by Professors Barrie Hayes-Gill,  John Crowe and Steve Morgan along with Dr Mark Grubb in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at The University of Nottingham, in collaboration with Dr Don Sharkey, an academic neonatologist, in the University’s School of Medicine.

Action Medical Research is a UK-wide charity saving and changing children’s lives through medical research. We want to make a difference in:
• tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
• helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
• targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.

Just one breakthrough, however small, can mean the world. Charity reg.nos 208701 and SC039284

Story credits

For more details about Heartlight, contact Professor Barrie Hayes-Gill on +44(0)115 9515547
Nick King  

Nick King - Marketing and Communications Manager, Energy Research Accelerator (ERA)

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 74 86727 Location: Coates Building, Faculty of Engineering, University Park Nottingham

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