Seizures in babies: cutting-edge imaging technique to improve diagnosis | Action Medical Research

Seizures in babies: cutting-edge imaging technique to improve diagnosis

30 July 2012

A cutting-edge technique, combining brain imaging and monitoring of its electrical activity, could improve early diagnosis and treatment of babies who suffer seizures.

Researchers at The Rosie Hospital, Cambridge, are investigating the new technique with funding from children’s charity Action Medical Research.

In the UK over 2,000 newborn babies suffer seizures each year.1 Early diagnosis and treatment is vital, as seizures may cause lasting brain damage. However, seizures sometimes go unnoticed, as babies can have no obvious symptoms.

Dr Topun Austin at The Rosie Hospital was awarded £131,150 by Action Medical Research for the two year project. “Seizures remain a major challenge when caring for newborn babies,” explains Dr Austin, “but can be difficult to diagnose as abnormal movements of the baby may be subtle or not even present.”

Around two or three babies in every 1,000 born alive also suffer from seizures within a month of birth.2,3 Babies born very prematurely are especially vulnerable, as are babies who suffer from a lack of oxygen during birth.

Babies who are suspected of suffering from seizures are normally referred for specialist tests. “The current diagnostic test is an electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures electrical activity within the brain,” explains Dr Austin. “EEG has limitations though, as it can only detect seizures occurring near the surface of the brain. It cannot detect abnormalities deeper within the brain.”

Dr Austin is developing a new way to diagnose seizures, which combines existing EEG technology with a new optical imaging system. The technique could also help other people with seizures or epilepsy.

“When babies have a seizure, there is a large amount of electrical activity in the brain, which we are measuring with EEG,” explains Dr Austin. “The amount of oxygen in the brain also changes, which we are measuring with the new optical system. This system works by shining near-infrared light into the brain, which is harmless and non-invasive.”

Dr Austin hopes the new combined technique will boost understanding of what’s happening inside the brain during seizures: “The ultimate aim is to develop the new system for routine use at the cot-side.”

This project brings together a team of clinicians and scientists with a proven track record in developing new technologies to study the infant brain. Most of the work is being carried out in a new neonatal unit – one of the largest in the country – at the Rosie Maternity Hospital, Cambridge.

- ENDS –

1. Rennie JM, Hagmann CF, Robertson NJ. Neonatal cerebral investigation. (2008) Cambridge University Press.
2. Panayiotopoulos CP. Chapter 5. Neonatal seizures and neonatal syndromes. The Epilepsies: Seizures, Syndromes and Management. Bladon Medical Publishing (Oxfordshire UK) 2005.
3. Davis AS et al. Seizures in extremely low birth weight infants are associated with adverse outcome. J Pediatr 2010; 157: 720-5.


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Action Medical Research - the leading UK-wide medical research charity dedicated to helping babies and children - is celebrating 60 years of vital research in 2012. We’ve been funding medical breakthroughs since we began in 1952 and have spent more than £100 million on research that has helped save thousands of children’s lives and changed many more. Today, we continue to find and fund the very best medical research to help stop the suffering of babies and children caused by disease and disability. We want to make a difference in:

  • tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
  • helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
  • targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.

But there is still so much more to do. Make 2012 a special year and help fund more life-changing research for some of the UK’s sickest babies and children.

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