Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Wellcome Image Awards 2016 Baby Blue
04 May 2016

Baby Blue

New-born babies often suffer from jaundice in their first few days. Bilirubin, a waste product in the blood, circulates to their skin giving it a yellow colour that can be a symptom of serious diseases. More often, though, jaundice is due to temporary difficulties with feeding which prevent bilirubin from flushing out of the body. Sixty years ago, an English nurse called Jean Ward discovered a remedy for jaundice quite by chance. She took a young patient outside for some fresh air on a sunny day and found the sunlight somehow made his yellow skin much paler. A modern form of phototherapy bathes this new-born in pure blue light, harmlessly penetrating the skin to break down the bilirubin. Phototherapy has prevented thousands of cases of hyperbilirubinaemia, which can cause permanent brain damage, potentially all thanks to Jean Ward and one sunny day in 1956.

Written by John Ankers

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