A system for enhancing feeding behavior in neonates


A system for enhancing feeding behavior in neonates


Technology: Researchers at MUSC have created a method and device for improving and accelerating learned feeding behaviors in neonates via vagus nerve stimulation that is coordinated with the neonate’s natural feeding efforts, potentially supporting earlier discharge from the hospital, lower costs, reduced neonatal and parental stress, and improvement in overall neonate health outcomes.


The researchers have found that non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation improved the sequence of sucking, swallowing, and breathing necessary for successful feeding in neonates.  These behaviors require coordination of the face, head, and neck muscles with the myelinated vagal regulation of the bronchi and the heart.  In a preliminary study using transcutaneous stimulation of the auricular branch of the vagus nerve (taVNS), it was found that taVNS may help premature neonates obtain full oral feedings, avoid gastrostomy intubation, and gain adequate weight for discharge.


Utilizing this knowledge, the MUSC researchers further devised the “Smart Stim” system that integrates an intelligent baby bottle with taVNS.  This intelligent baby bottle contains sensors to record and measure feeding behaviors including pressure, suction, flow volume and position.  Utilizing the output from this intelligent baby bottle, the system synchronizes the administration of taVNS with babies' efforts administers to stimulate and improve feeding behavior. 


Overview: Infants who are born prematurely or who suffer a global hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), are at high risk for motor problems, which primarily manifest as feeding delays during their neonatal hospital admission.  Oromotor dyscoordination is common in these infants, and feeding difficulty is the primary reason for delayed discharge. Many infants who do not master this motor skill before term age (40-42 weeks gestation) will receive a gastrostomy tube for direct gastric feeding.  Furthermore, feeding difficulties in infants are associated with later language delays, even in the absence of gross motor impairment.


Currently, the only treatment to improve oromotor skills during feeding consists of occupational therapy working with the infant to encourage safe feeding behavior.  Due to the personnel requirements of this therapy, it is not possible to provide therapy at every feeding session, and in some cases neonates receive therapy only once a day.  The present invention is targeted to those babies at high risk for motor problems with feeding delay, and has the opportunity to accompany any and all feeding sessions.  The system will provide brain stimulation via taVNS delivered simultaneously with active sucking from a bottle, this should enhance cortical motor plasticity involved in learning oromotor skills and lead to better oral feeding and corresponding outcomes.


Applications: Neonatal feeding assistance, neonatal feeding training



Non-invasive: The taVNS is transcutaneous and thus non-invasive, furthermore successful therapy may eliminate the need for a gastrostomy tube.

Improved Outcomes:  Preliminary studies indicate an improvement in feeding behavior and weight gain, prerequisites for hospital discharge.

Convenient and Accessible:  The treatment could be applied to any and all feeding sessions, greatly increasing the frequency of intervention over the present treatment strategy.


Key Words: neonatal, baby, newborn, preemie, feeding, oromotor skills, oromotor development, vagus nerve stimulation


Publications:  Badran, Bashar W., et al. "Transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS) for improving oromotor function in newborns." Brain Stimulation: Basic, Translational, and Clinical Research in Neuromodulation (2018).


Inventors: Bashar Badran, Mark George, Doe Jenkins, Daniel Cook

Patent Status:  PCT Application PCT/US19/33151 filed 5.20.20189

MUSC-FRD Technology ID: P1840

Licensing Status: Available for licensing



Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Joseph Ruscito
Vice President of Medical Technology
Zucker Institute of Innovation Commercialization powered by MUSC
Bashar Badran
Mark George
Dorothea Jenkins
William DeVries
Philipp Summers
Morgan Dancy
Daniel Cook
Georgia Mappin
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