NextUp: The Local Company Using Data Analytics to Save Premature Babies

Astarte Medical has developed software that informs real-time decisions for feeding preterm babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units.

Astarte Medical founders, Tracy Warren and Tammi Jantzen.

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Who: Astarte Medical wants to improve care for preterm babies. The Yardley-based company was founded six years ago by Tracy Warren and Tammi Jantzen, two former venture capitalists who recognized that women’s and pediatric health are underserved categories of investment. They had spent years funding companies aimed at improving tech-enabled healthcare for women and children, but it was a chance meeting with nurse scientist Katherine Gregory that inspired them to start a company of their own.

“We met Kate Gregory, who is our scientific co-founder, and she was responsible for really bringing to light for us the challenges of early infant nutrition, especially for premature babies,” Warren told NextHealth PHL. “She really inspired us to find a way to help clinicians in the NICU. It was this call to action for Tammi and I. We knew we had to do something about it.”

What: Preterm babies often remain in the hospital in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) until they are deemed healthy enough to go home since they are at high risk of experiencing a host of neurodevelopmental delays or disabilities, and general health issues, like allergy and asthma. Nutrition is one of the most important components to keeping preterm babies alive until they reach full term, but it also presents a challenge. As Warren explains it, full-term babies typically receive “a perfect cocktail of nutrition” through mom’s umbilical cord until birth. In the NICU, preterm babies are introduced to breast milk, formula or donor milk, all things that Warren says weren’t actually meant to be provided to a baby’s gut at this stage of development.

In an ideal circumstance, clinicians follow standard guidelines for feeding; most hospitals recommend feeding every two to three hours in very small amounts. But when circumstances change — say if a clinician goes to the bedside and a baby’s belly is bloated or the baby doesn’t eat the entire feed — clinicians are forced to make educated guesses to interpret signs and symptoms.

That’s where Astarte’s technology comes in.

Astarte’s NICUtrition Analytics software audits and monitors adherence to a hospital’s feeding guidelines and compares it to preterm infant outcomes. This enables clinicians to make better decisions, based on data, in real-time.

“Using our technology, there’s better data to inform clinicians about when to feed, how much to feed, when to advance the feed, and then we’re able to provide feedback on how that baby is taking in those decisions and choices,” Warren said. “We want to be that fully integrated and informative tool to give doctors, nurses and dietitians better information about this very critical piece of helping these babies grow.”

Further ahead in the company’s pipeline, Warren sees opportunities for partnerships with nutrition companies that could use Astarte’s data to create customized probiotics for NICU babies. Similarly, Astarte hopes to someday improve pregnancy outcomes for moms, by informing the creation of specialized prenatal vitamins.

When: In May, Astarte secured $5 million in Series A funding, with investment from Lunsford Capital, OCA Ventures, and Ben Franklin Technology Partners. Astarte will use the funds to complete the development of its NICUtrition suite of digital tools and diagnostics, which support feeding protocols, practice, and decision-making in the neonatal ICU (NICU).

Why: The National Center for Health Statistics estimates roughly four million babies will be born each year in the United States, and one in 10 of those babies will be born preterm. Preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under five years of age, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). If better data leads to better outcomes, Astarte’s technology could assist in saving the youngest of lives.

What It Means: Astarte has identified a somewhat rare scenario in which technology and data may actually be better at informing real-time decisions than human intervention. Astarte’s focus on gut health at the earliest stage of life could help inform future investment in customized nutrition for pregnant moms and children of all ages.