Brain scanner for babies
It has long been known that a lack of oxygen during birth can cause brain damage in babies. Yet, until Action Medical Research funding helped develop and adapt the use of infrared scanning technology, there was no way of monitoring oxygen in the brain of an unborn baby while it was being delivered.
Like ultrasound, infrared technology was originally developed for military use. However, scientists noted its potential application for medicine, and doctors at University College London were able to develop a scanner for monitoring babies' brains in intensive care.
In the 1990s, Action Medical Research funded a number of projects to enable the transition of the infrared scanner from the intensive care unit to the delivery suite. By 'looking inside the brain', doctors hoped to be able to spot babies who were experiencing a shortage of oxygen during delivery.
The scanner works by placing optical fibres on the baby's scalp while it's in the birth canal so that harmless infrared rays can be shone through. The absorption of light, which depends on the amount of oxygen in the blood, is measured and analysed by a sophisticated computer, using software developed with Action Medical Research funding.
Since then the scanner has been used in a number of research studies around the world to provide unique information to help doctors minimise the risk of brain damage in babies.