Development of a device to detect baby brain injury earlier

19th September 2018

By Trevor Ward, senior solicitor in our medical negligence serious injury team

Researchers believe that babies admitted to a neonatal unit after birth could benefit from a new tool that detects brain damage.

A team at University College London has developed a device that shines light into the brain to monitor oxygen and energy levels. Broadband near-infrared spectroscopy could help doctors assess brain damage earlier and tailor treatment accordingly.

The BBC has reported that a clinical trial of the technology is now planned. As something that could help sick babies, then this is welcome news.

Around three in 1,000 babies born in England suffer brain injury at or soon after birth due to lack of oxygen during delivery. The early detection and treatment of brain injury is essential for doctors to work out whether treatments are working so the development of tools like this is vital.

Currently doctors have to wait several days for newborn babies to be stable enough to undergo an MRI scan so the earlier that they are able to assess a baby, the better. It may lead to more cooling regimes or other treatments to slow or halt the progress of neurological harm.

This is good news not only for the future treatment of the child but also for them not having to be transferred for MRIs. Being able to be treated with a bedside, non-invasive technology has to be a better option for tiny babies.

The device is placed on the head and shines red and infra-red light into the brain. Changes in brain oxygen levels and energy usage change the colour of the light that is reflected back. Sensors measure the reflected light to work out whether brain cells are healthy or damaged.

What we don’t yet know is the cost involved and this is obviously crucial to how it gets implemented and how widespread its use may be. We also don’t know how widely it will be available and whether it is just in specialist units but all advances in medical technology should be welcomed. We look forward to finding out more information about the trials and its future use.

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