New brain scanning technology could “save lives”, says study

Researchers from University College London believe that a bedside light could be the key to monitoring children’s brains from a young age.

Cerebral palsy, caused by a brain injury during pregnancy or during birth, is often undetected until the child reaches the age of three to five years.

The latest figures suggest that around three in every 1,000 babies born in England suffer a brain injury due to a lack of oxygen during delivery.

However, early detection could mean that the child gains access to the right support early on to help with his or her development into adulthood.

The new technology, known as broadband near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), is effectively a device which shines light into the brain to monitor oxygen and energy levels.

The researchers say NIRS could help evaluate the condition of a child and assess the severity of a brain injury.

The only other assessment method at this stage of a child’s life is an MRI scan, which is both expensive and stressful for the child’s family.

Commenting on the announcement, Dr Gemma Bale, an engineer from University College London working on the NIRS instrument, said: “This type of light can more easily penetrate the body, like when you shine a torch on your hand.

“Changes in brain oxygen levels and energy usage change the colour of the light that is reflected back.

“Our sensors measure the reflected light to work out whether brain cells are healthy or damaged.”

Dr Bale added: “The first week after birth is a really critical time in babies’ development. If we are able to get in sooner to assess the damage, we can tailor treatment to save lives and help prevent disability further down the line.”