Public Release: 

NIH grants $750,000 to develop device to determine temperature of neonate's brain

Temperature-monitoring device could reduce deaths, brain damage from hypoxia

Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters

NORFOLK, Va. -- A neonatologist at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters (CHKD) is leading the clinical trials of a $750,000 study funded Friday, Aug. 31, to develop a device to measure the precise temperature of a newborn's brain.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant stems from recent studies showing that cooling of the brain of oxygen-starved newborns dramatically reduces the incidence of Cerebral Palsy, other neurological damage, and death.

While recent studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of the brain-cooling regimen, doctors don't yet have a precise way to measure the brain's temperature. The NIH grant will allow researchers to adapt a non-invasive radiometric-sensing device -- developed by Meridian Medical Systems of Woolwich, ME -- to provide precise temperatures of brain tissue beneath the skull.

"Precise brain temperature measurements are essential to maximize the benefit of therapeutic hypothermia," said Thomas Bass, M.D., a neonatologist at CHKD, the pediatric teaching hospital of Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, VA. Bass is also an EVMS professor of pediatrics.

About two to three in 1,000 newborns born at term are at risk of brain damage from oxygen-deprivation during birth. About half of the infants born with the condition will die or suffer severe handicaps such as mental retardation or cerebral palsy.

Historically, doctors tended to keep newborns warm, at incubator-like temperatures, and treated the hypoxic infants with medicine. But several recent studies have demonstrated that cooling the brain can significantly reduce both death and severe disability.

"Injury from oxygen-deprivation continues long after delivery," said Bass, co-investigator of a groundbreaking study on the subject published in Pediatric Neurology in 2005. "Cooling the brain decreases its need for oxygen and can slow or stop continuing damage."

Doctors today often cool the brain using whole-body cooling blankets or specially developed cooling caps. The goal of the therapy is to reduce the brain temperature by about four degrees centigrade. While cooling therapy has become more common, doctors must extrapolate the brain's temperature by using a rectal thermometer. The rectal temperature can be off by as much as two degrees.

"That's not acceptable," said Bass.

Under the NIH grant, Bass, Meridian and a team of EVMS research scientists will exploit the fact that all human tissue emits energy at microwave frequencies. Those emissions can travel through tissue, but only for a few millimeters, depending on the frequency. As the tissue's temperature rises, emissions increase.

By tabulating the frequency and strength of electromagnetic emissions emanating from the body, Meridian has developed a device that can measure the temperature of tissue a given distance below the skin's surface, even through a baby's skull.

The research team hopes to use this technology to develop a small, lightweight device that can be affixed to an infant's head to detect electromagnetic emissions generated 15 millimeters below the surface, giving doctors the exact temperature of the child's brain.


The research team includes: Kenneth Carr, Ph.D., founder of Meridian Medical Systems; Frank A. Lattanzio, Ph.D., assistant professor of physiological sciences at EVMS; and James Schaeffer, Ph.D., professor emeritus at EVMS.

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