Published: September 20, 2017
Current methods to assess the gestational age during prenatal care or at birth are a global challenge. Disadvantages, such as low accessibility, high costs, and imprecision of clinical tests and ultrasonography measurements, may compromise health decisions at birth, based on the gestational age. Newborns’ organs and tissues can indirectly indicate their physical maturity, and we hypothesized that evolutionary changes in their skin, detected using an optoelectronic device meter, may aid in estimating the gestational age. This study analyzed the feasibility of using newborn skin reflectance to estimate the gestational age at birth noninvasively.
Methods and findings
A cross-sectional study evaluated the skin reflectance of selected infants, preferably premature, at birth. The first-trimester ultrasound was the reference for gestational age. A prototype of a new noninvasive optoelectronic device measured the backscattering of light from the skin, using a light emitting diode at wavelengths of 470 nm, 575 nm, and 630 nm. Univariate and multivariate regression analysis models were employed to predict gestational age, combining skin reflectance with clinical variables for gestational age estimation. The gestational age at birth of 115 newborns from 24.1 to 41.8 weeks of gestation correlated with the light at 630 nm wavelength reflectance 3.3 mm/6.5 mm ratio distant of the sensor, at the forearm and sole (Pearson’s correlation = 0.505, P < 0.001 and 0.710, P < 0.001, respectively). The best-combined variables to predict the gold standard gestational age at birth was the skin reflectance at wavelengths of 630 nm and 470 nm in combination with birth weight, phototherapy, and adjusted to include incubator stay, and sex (R2 = 0.828, P < 0.001). The main limitation of the study is that it was very specific to the premature population we studied and needs to be studied in a broader spectrum of newborns.
A novel automated skin reflectometer device, in combination with clinical variables, was able to predict the gestational age and could be useful when the information is in doubt or is unknown. Multivariable predictive models associated the skin reflectance with easy to obtain clinical parameters, at the birth scenario. External validation needs to be proven in an actual population with the real incidence of premature infants.