Michigan State researchers show how fingerprinting babies could save lives

Posted at 2:52 PM, Nov 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-03 14:53:37-04

We're used to using our fingerprints for things like unlocking our cell phone, but in some areas around the world, that print could open up all kinds of possibilities.

Through the Gates Foundation, Michigan State University Professor Anil Jain and his team of researchers
set out to answer how the swipe of a finger could change lives.

They want to see how early a body characteristic, like a fingerprint, can be used to identify children.

"When we started this 2 1/2 years ago, every fingerprint expert said oh you won't be able to capture fingerprints of kids under 2 or 3," says Professor Jain.

He says now that's no longer the case. Thanks to the work he did with his team of biometrics researchers
in India. Starting in March of 2015, they traveled to a small town in northern India every 3 months to fingerprint the same child for one year. Professor Jain says having reliable prints as early as possible allows their health care and vaccinations to be tracked better.

"It's very important .. because you can't eradicate a disease unless everyone has been inoculated," he says.

The study involved newborns to kids 4 1/2 years-old. It used digital scans of their thumbs.

"One of the main questions that hadn't been answered .. does child's fingerprint remain same as child grows or does it change? What we have shown is that if you start observing the child at 6 months, there's no change."

He says their study showed that they can identify children 6 months old - over 99% of the time - based on their thumbprints.

So, if that's how records are kept, with a touch of a finger, health care workers could have access to their medical history. That would give the children better access to life saving immunizations and nutrition. Jain says the World Food Program is interested in his team's work.

"The number of applications is numerous. It's not just restricted to vaccinations," he says.

Professor Jain says he hopes to make the system work for the first shot given which is around one-month-old. He says capturing a child's print can also help identify them in cases of human trafficking and kidnapping.

As for his study, he plans to continue it on the same children every year for another 4 years so they can better
evaluate the use of those prints.