Researchers in Finland are pushing the research envelope, especially in terms of investigating the brain mechanism in preterm babies. Their latest work is helping develop treatments to protect the brain as well as research methods for use in hospital settings. Presented in The Journal of Visualized Experiments, the study was funded in part by the BRADIMO ('Brain diagnostics and monitoring in early neonatal period') project, which has received a Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowships for Career Development grant worth more than EUR 266 000 under the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The findings will improve brain health and the lives of infants, and help develop monitoring devices to keep an eye on the well-being of infant brains during treatment in hospital intensive care units.
Premature birth or intrapartum asphyxia increases a child's risk of suffering from brain problems. Researchers say a brain cannot be saved just by keeping a baby alive.
'When developing brain treatment, a key challenge is to find ways to study and monitor the well-being of the brain in the neonatal intensive care unit environment,' says Dr Sampsa Vanhatalo, docent of pediatric clinical neurophysiology at the University of Helsinki in Finland. 'The research and development work carried out in the basic neurobiology laboratory in the University of Helsinki has provided a whole new level of insight into the electrical activity of the brain in newborns. Now we know that many previously unexplained brain events seen in an EEG are essential for the development and maturation of the brain in premature babies.'
The innovative electroencephalography (EEG) techniques developed by researchers at the University of Helsinki and the Helsinki University Central Hospital (HUCH) have attracted considerable international attention, particularly because of their precise measurement of EEG in premature infants.
'These dense array EEG caps and the related full-band EEG (FbEEG) that we have developed have disclosed crucial forms of newborn brain activity that have so far been overlooked,' Dr Vanhatalo said. 'We have also developed a method to study sensory functions of premature babies when the tracts are still in the process of forming in the brain and the yield of a traditional neurological examination is still negligible.'
Other research centres around the globe have already started producing FbEEG devices, and dense array EEG caps are being built. Officials in the EU and the United States have clinically approved these devices.
'Multi-modal EEG analysis of newborns may help us to recognise the children in need of immediate care or neurological rehabilitation early on, as preterm babies,' Dr Vanhatalo says. 'Today, often the diagnosis cannot be made until the child is a toddler. It is critical for the development and quality of a child's life that appropriate treatment and rehabilitation is started as soon as possible.'
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