Preterm birth is a vast global phenomenon, not without consequences. It is associated with an increased risk of brain damage and neurodevelopmental deficit. BabyLux – An Optical Neuro-Monitor of Cerebral Oxygen Metabolism and Blood Flow for Neonatology – is an innovation that will save lives!

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This is a guest blog post written by Monica Lancini, communication officer for BabyLux project

“Born too soon”: this is the origin and the doom of a growing number of children in the world. According to the Global Action Report published by the World Health Organization (2012) about 1.1 million babies die from preterm birth complications. This is the second leading cause of death, globally, for children under five. The extremely preterm infants, born at less than 28 weeks of gestation, represent 0.5% of all births. An apparently small percentage that, when translated into numbers, is equivalent to more than 25,000 cases per year in Europe. One in four grows up with cognitive and physical handicaps, partly due to injury from lack of blood and oxygen delivery in the brain.  BabyLux – An Optical Neuro-Monitor of Cerebral Oxygen Metabolism and Blood Flow for Neonatology – provides an innovative and reliable tool to monitor and assess brain blood flow and oxygenation in extremely preterm neonates. It's a non-invasive, robust and integrated system that uses advanced photonic technologies to enable neonatologists to prevent neurological damages due to lack of oxygenation in the brain. The ultimate aim is to diminish the risk of brain lesions from 25% to 20%, eventually reducing the number of children with disabilities by more than 1,000 per year, in Europe alone.

The tool is easy to operate by the clinical staff, it can be brought to the bedside, measurements can be done in a few minutes and repeatedly, if the condition is critical. It extends already tested prototypes to the level of demonstration units, bridging the gap between research and real life settings.

After an initial laboratory investigation, a training period will start in October 2015, followed by a trial phase that will be launched in December 2015. Two acclaimed hospitals, Mangiagalli Ospedale Policlinico in Milan (Italy) and Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen (Denmark) will host the demonstration unit and test it. Its functionalities and benefits will be evaluated by professional end-users during validation tests.

I am sure there is one question you have been considering since you started reading this post: why do preterm births occur in the first place? You shouldn’t be tempted to think that this is a problem caused by the lack of control during pregnancy or poor and unhealthy leaving conditions. They do matter, but preterm births occur for a variety of reasons, from early induction of labor or cesarean birth to multiple pregnancies, from infections and chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, to genetics. Nevertheless, often no cause is identified. And though over 60% of preterm births occur in Africa and South Asia, the 10 countries with the highest numbers include also the United States, demonstrating that preterm birth is truly a global problem. Since preterm birth has multiple causes, solutions will come from a number of discoveries in multiple fields. As human beings and parents, not only as scientists and technicians, we are all involved. I am sure you all agree on that!  If so, join us  in October at ICT 2015 Innovate Connect Transform (20-22 October 2015, Lisbon). Visitors will be able to use the BabyLux mock-up demonstration unit and give us their feedback (on several aspects, such as usability, design and dimensions, sensors, data representation etc). Also, take a look at our entry in the Exhibition Catalogue. Otherwise, follow the project on its webiste and mark in your agenda December 2016, as an important date to learn about the final results.

BabyLux is partially funded by the European Commission under the ICT Policy Support Programme (ICT PSP), as part of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Program. BabyLux is led by Politecnico di Milano, Fondazione Politecnico di Milano, ICFO-Institute of Photonic Sciences, Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT, Hemophotonics SL, PicoQuant GmbH, Loop, Capital Region of Denmark and Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico.