Early detection of brain injury in newborns

By Sabrina Brigadoi and Dani Forster

A feature story in the Health section of BBC news, dated 18th September 2018, highlighted recent work at the University College London (UCL), United Kingdom, using NIRS for early detection of brain injury in newborns. Around 0.3% of newborn babies in England suffer brain injury soon after birth, due to lack of oxygen during delivery. This percentage increases to 2.6% in babies born preterm (<37 weeks gestation). Around half of these babies later develop disabilities that could have important impact on their life and society.

The team at UCL (Dr. Gemma Bale is one of the members) developed a bedside broad-band NIRS device that can be employed immediately after birth on newborns to monitor both their brain oxygen and energy levels. This bedside device could change the way clinical intervention is pursued on these babies, allowing a possible early detection, and consequently treatment, of brain injury, with the final aim to prevent later disabilities. MRI examination is indeed the standard procedure nowadays, but several days have to be waited after birth to allow the newborn to achieve a stable condition before undergoing MRI.

The novelty of the device developed by the UCL team resides in the possibility to monitor also energy usage, other than oxygen levels. This further information can help to detect whether cells are healthy or damaged in that baby and plan a personalized treatment. It has been seen, indeed, that babies with reduced metabolism are likely to have injured brain areas.

A clinical trial is being planned by the UCL team to test whether this novel device could improve the care of newborns with brain injury. We will be following the updates of this impactful and interesting work in the future.

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