NIH grant to support neonatal portable brain imaging system development

The system will measure babies' neurophysiology in real time, providing the analysis needed to treat encephalopathy more quickly.

Hanli Liu Portrait Web

A team of researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA; Arlington, TX), led by bioengineering professor Hanli Liu, will integrate a portable brain imaging system with an advanced signal-processing technique for newborns that will better measure babies' neurophysiology in real time, providing physicians the analysis needed to treat encephalopathy or brain swelling more quickly.

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Liu will use $500,000 of a five-year, $1.73 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to Dr. Lina Chalak, a University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UT Southwestern; Dallas, TX) neonatal intensivist whose research is focused on improving outcomes of the neonatal brain. The project is entitled "A Novel Wavelet Neurovascular Bundle for Detection of Injury in Neonatal Encephalopathy."

The clinical team science is led by Chalak, who also is a neonatal brain injury researcher and associate professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern, and includes Professor Rong Zhang, an expert in autoregulation methodologies at UT Southwestern, as well as Liu and her former research associate, Fenghua Tian, who have all the expertise needed for adapting the use of the wavelet analysis in sick newborns.

"We want to be able to give doctors the most reliable, quickest information to better treat these sick babies," Liu says, who also is an adjunct faculty member for the UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering. "Our optical brain imaging system uses near-infrared light and detects noninvasively cerebral blood oxygenation and blood flow across multiple brain regions simultaneously. Such regional brain oxygenation parameters, when being combined with other vital recordings, will give physicians real-time information needed to proceed with life-saving treatment for babies experiencing encephalopathy."

Hanli Liu Portrait Web
Hanli Liu, a UTA bioengineering professor, is working with a UT Southwestern team to help neonatals who suffer from encephalopathy.

The key responsibility of Liu's group for this project rests on the novel adaption and further advances of wavelet coherence analysis (WCA), which was originally developed for atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

WCA involves complex mathematics and computational steps. This is why Chalak relies on Liu and her team for quantification of coherence factors between several neurophysiological and vital parameters, such as neurovascular wavelet analysis.

"Such coherence factors may serve as biomarkers in the near future for clinical diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis for sick babies," Liu says. "The real-time monitoring lets doctors act more quickly. Of course, the ultimate goal is to save those babies' lives."

Currently, Liu said treatment for neonatal encephalopathy is to lower the baby's temperature by using cooling blankets as the standard treatment, but only about 50% of the babies treated with a cooling blanket benefit. So, the combination of a portable brain imaging system with the advances of WCA that Liu is developing will help clinicians determine when the treatment should be initiated.

The neurovascular wavelet analysis is innovative, as it integrates multidisciplinary physiological and computational approaches to allow measurements of cerebral hemodynamics at the bedside.

For more information, please visit mentis.uta.edu/explore/profile/hanli-liu.

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