NIR light technique is promising for premature baby lung examination

Recognizing that premature babies have a hard time getting the oxygen they need because their lungs are not sufficiently developed and that using x-ray tests to examine the amount of air in these babies' lungs can increase their risk of developing cancer, a team of researchers at Lund University (Sweden) has developed a method that could allow examination to be done using near-infrared (NIR) laser light instead.

Emilie Krite Svanberg, an anesthesiologist and researcher at Lund University who led the work, publicly defended her doctoral thesis on the use of NIR light to measure oxygen in a human body in March 2016. The basic principle of the method is to send light of a certain wavelength into the body, and then measure how much of the light can be retrieved. Based on this, it is possible to calculate the oxygen supply.

Lund University researcher Emilie Krite Svanberg.

Technology that measures oxygen bound in the blood already exists, but free oxygen that exists in cavities such as lungs is much more difficult to measure. Here, the submitted NIR light must be at exactly the right wavelength—precisely 760.445 nm.

These measurements could help determine whether or not a premature baby needs treatment to improve their breathing. If intensive interventions are necessary, such as inflating collapsed parts of the lungs, light measurements could also be used to minimize the risk of injury from the treatment.

Emilie Krite Svanberg’s studies are carried out on full-term babies, but in the future she hopes that measurements taken with the technology that detects oxygen in the lungs could be used to monitor premature babies.

Krite Svanberg and the other researchers involved in the work have conducted trials with healthy newborn babies as a proof of concept. The research group—with roots in both the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Engineering at Lund University—has, along with private companies, received a large EU grant to continue developing the method.

"Today, the method requires one person to hold a measuring instrument against the baby’s chest, while another sits by the computer, registering the results. Our goal is to simplify this technology," Krite Svanberg says. "We hope that the measurements will be possible to perform automatically, by using small transmitters attached to the baby's chest. This would enable measuring the lung function continuously, in a way that is completely safe and that doesn't bother the child."

An advantage of the research team's method is that the technology is so simple that it could be used not only within intensive care, but also in emergency wards and other healthcare clinics.

For more information on the work, Krite Svanberg's doctoral thesis is available at www.lu.se/lup/publication/8777000.

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