Innovation Hero Finalist: Erin Mannen

Innovation Hero Finalist: Erin Mannen
Erin Mannen of UAMS

Erin Mannen helped spearhead a unique approach at UAMS that is saving infants’ lives.

In the past few years, inclined sleep products were found to be responsible for the deaths of 80 babies in the United States.

Mannen, an assistant professor, baby biometrics expert and mechanical engineer, led a team that used innovative methods to study the products’ safety for babies, working with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to conduct the investigation.

Inclined sleepers are relatively new. The Consumer Product Safety Commission only began recognizing them as a product class in 2011, when they were separated from the regulations governing bassinets and cradles.

The appearance of the products varies, but they can look like hammocks or slings suspended on a frame, often with an incline of 10 to 30 degrees.

The UAMS team of engineers and clinicians designed a biomechanics experiment, and the findings showed that the design of inclined sleep products was not safe for babies. The team used a variety of tests and samples and reviewed 91 incidents on a case-by-case basis.

Evidence showed a higher risk of suffocation than with a flat crib mattress.

Media outlets including the Washington Post, CBS Evening News, ABC, WebMD and Parents Magazine Online featured the research, and as a result of the study the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommended the products no longer be sold.

The UAMS Orthopedics Biomechanics Lab is the only laboratory to explore infant movement within common baby gear using engineering principles. The unique team of engineers and clinicians enabled UAMS to answer a meaningful, clinical question utilizing innovative test methods.

“This translational infant biomechanics research is the first of its kind,” Mannen said.

The biggest challenge in the project was the short timeline, Mannen said. Because this was the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's highest priority and babies were continually dying, the UAMS team had to move quickly on the project.

“We conceptualized, piloted, tested, analyzed and reported this project in a 12 month time period,” Mannen said.

Part of the UAMS study included a biomechanical analysis with actual infants ranging in age from 2 to 6 months.