Saving itty bitty brains

Saving itty bitty brains

Researchers developing device to monitor brain bleeds in preemies

By April Frawley Birdwell

Biomedical engineer Rosalind Sadleir and neonatologist Dr. Michael Weiss received a grant to develop a monitoring device that will help track and catch bleeding in premature babies’ brains./ Photo by Jesse S. Jones

Nearly one-third of premature babies develop bleeding in the brain after birth, a problem associated with serious long-term effects such as cerebral palsy, seizures and blindness.

But some of these devastating complications could be prevented if physicians could catch and treat such brain hemorrhaging, also called intraventricular bleeding, when it begins. To this end, UF researchers from the colleges of Medicine and Engineering have received a two-year, $694,000 grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in collaboration with EGI Inc. to develop a device that not only monitors preemies’ fragile brains, but also detects bleeding as soon as it starts. The research also will give physicians a more detailed understanding and timeline of how and when brain hemorrhages typically occur in babies.

“When we look at preterm babies with intraventricular hemorrhages, we detect them after the fact, so we really don’t know what is happening in the brain at the time of the hemorrhage,” said Michael Weiss, M.D., a neonatologist and an associate professor of pediatrics in the College of Medicine who has teamed with biomedical engineer Rosalind Sadleir, Ph.D., of the College of Engineering, on the project. “If we can identify the exact moment when a bleed occurs, we may be able to develop therapies that can help prevent bad outcomes from happening.”

The researchers will employ a technique known as electrical impedance tomography, or EIT. Using this method, they will be able to view 3-D reconstructions of bleeding inside the brain at any given moment, said Sadleir, who specializes in the use of EIT to detect bleeding inside the body.

To collect data within the brain, tiny electrodes are placed on the head. For babies, the researchers plan to use eight electrodes, which they aim to place on an easy-to-apply bandage. If bleeding reaches a risky level, an alert will sound, similar to other devices used to monitor premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit. EIT is used commercially in lung monitoring, specifically to measure lung activity when patients are placed on ventilators to assist their breathing.

Bleeding in the brain is typically detected through routine ultrasounds performed about seven to 14 days after a premature baby is born, according to the National Institutes of Health. Most of the time there are no other symptoms.