Image: Integrated drug infusion pump with flow and bubble sensor modules (Photo courtesy of KIMM)
Medical mishaps caused by the over-administration of pain relief medication during or post-surgery can lead to fatalities, particularly in surgery and cancer treatment scenarios. These incidents often arise from issues with drug infusion pumps or errors in medical supplies. To prevent such accidents, researchers have developed the world’s first drug infusion pump with a safe medication administration detection technology.
A research team at the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials (KIMM, Daejeon, South Korear) has successfully created the technology for customized sensor modules. These modules are designed to measure the very low flow rates typical of analgesic drug infusion pumps, as well as to detect air bubbles within these pumps. To manage post-operative pain, narcotic analgesics are usually administered at flow rates as low as 1 to 2 mL/h. The team developed a novel thermal micro-flow sensor, which incorporates a micro-heater and multiple temperature sensors, to accurately gauge these minimal flow rates. This was achieved by balancing the cooling effect on the microheater due to heat loss and its heating effect on the fluid.
In line with updated FDA regulations requiring bubble sensors in drug infusion pumps, the new pumps are equipped with temperature sensors at both ends of the tube. These sensors can detect bubbles by observing the variation in heat diffusion between air and liquid in the tube. Notably, by attaching the sensor to the exterior of the drug injection tube, both the flow rate and bubble presence can be measured non-invasively. This design also allows for sensor reuse, addressing the cost issues related to medical disposables.
This technology ensures performance on par with high-cost MEMS sensors in terms of sensitivity, accuracy, measurement range, and bubble detection. The sensor has been developed as a customized module to replace the ultrasonic bubble sensor in existing drug infusion pumps. This sensor module is currently being prepared for large-scale production for use in new drug infusion pumps. The introduction of this technology is poised to play a significant role in preventing medical accidents caused by excessive analgesic administration post-surgery. It is also expected to facilitate speedy medical services by providing highly accurate data on medication speed and dosage and to reduce the medical staff’s workload in drug injection management.
“This is a technology for a sensor capable of simultaneously measuring extremely low flow rates and bubbles without coming into contact with the drug outside the tube and without having to apply the expensive MEMS sensor technology, simply by attaching the drug infusion tube to the sensor,” said senior researcher Dong-kyu Lee of the KIMM. “It is a technology that is customized for the injection of medications.”