Optical neuro-monitor to lower brain damage in premature babies

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Nine European partners have begun a project that aims to reduce the risk of brain damage in babies born prematurely. The goal of the BabyLux project is to develop an optical neuro-monitor that controls the oxygenation of the baby’s brain with a high level of accuracy.

The project partners aim to reduce the risk of brain damage in extremely preterm babies from 25 per cent to 20 per cent. This would decrease the number of children with disabilities by more than 1,000 per year in Europe alone.

The project involves researchers, clinicians, and SMEs from Italy, Spain, Germany, and Denmark. The German company, PicoQuant, a provider of instrumentation for single photon counting applications, will provide core opto-electronic components necessary to develop and build the instrument.

The optical neuro-monitor measures optical signals using near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). Neonatologists can measure blood flow to the brain with the device, as well as the blood’s oxygenation non-invasively. It is portable and can be brought to the bedside, and measurements can be carried out in a few minutes or repeatedly if the condition is critical.

According to the Global Action Report published by The World Health Organisation in 2012, 15 million preterm births occur every year. About 1.1 million babies die from preterm birth complications.

The extremely preterm infants, born at less than 28 weeks of gestation, represent 0.5 per cent of all births which when translated into numbers is equivalent to more than 25,000 cases per year in Europe. These children have a higher risk of death, approximately 20 per cent. They usually remain in intensive care for several weeks and then in the hospital for two to three months before going home. Furthermore, one in four grows up with some kind of disability, mainly due to brain injury.

The BabyLux project aims to reduce this problem. ‘We are very proud to present a European project of this magnitude,’ said the project coordinator, Alessandro Torricelli, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at Politecnico di Milano. ‘Our goal is to fill a void in the neonatal intensive care, where there aren’t any reliable tools to assess the brain blood flow and oxygenation in infants born prematurely.’

‘PicoQuant is very happy to join a project dedicated to baby health. We will provide our class leading opto-electronic components and support the development of a complete and user-friendly device for the medical market,’ said Rainer Erdmann, managing director at PicoQuant.

The project, partially funded by the European Commission, began in January 2014 and will last three years. A six-month trial period will follow at the Mangiagalli Hospital in Milan, Italy and at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The nine partners are: Politecnico di Milano, Fondazione Politecnico di Milano, ICFO-Institute of Photonic Sciences, Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT, Hemophotonics, PicoQuant, Competitive Network, Capital Region, and Fondazione IRCCS Ca 'Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico.