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New noninvasive test to assess breathing, feeding risks in newborns

18 January 2012

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA -- A very challenging and vulnerable patient group -- premature and full-term newborn babies -- stands to benefit from a new monitoring method developed by biomedical optics scientists in Sweden. A case study from the work will be presented next week at SPIE Photonics West in the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

The technique is the first application of noninvasive diode laser spectroscopy to assess gas content in the intestines and the lungs of a newborn baby. The assessment will provide valuable information about the newborn's ability to breathe or to digest milk or formula, without the need for blood tests or other invasive procedures.

Researchers Sune Svanberg and others from Skåne University Hospital and Lund University will present their work in "Non-invasive gas monitoring in newborn infants using diode laser absorption spectroscopy: A case study" on Wednesday 25 January (8:40 a.m.) as part of the Biomedical Optics conference.

"This is the first in vivo example of noninvasive diode laser spectroscopy, typically used to characterize isolated gas phase systems, applied to clinical diagnostics," said Bruce Tromberg, director of the Laser Microbeam and Medical Program at the Beckman Laser Institute, University of California Irvine. "Conventional clinical diagnostics require sampling of body fluids which are particularly difficult to access in neonates."

Tromberg said that a key innovation behind the new test was the recognition that multiply scattered light propagating over several centimeters could be used to enhance sensitivity to small changes in light absorption at the wavelengths necessary for water vapor detection.

"If this promising approach can be extended to detecting other gases, such as oxygen, it may lead to entirely new strategies for noninvasive, label-free clinical diagnostics," Tromberg said

"As the parent of a now-adult, extremely premature infant, I was keenly interested to read about this exciting application of gaseous absorption spectroscopy," said Irving Bigio, professor of Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Physics, Medicine (Gastroenterology) at Boston University. "In current clinical practice, intubated preterm infants are frequently examined by x-ray imaging to verify placement of the respirator tube, and pulse oximetry must be verified and calibrated by blood gas measurements on drawn blood. Novel noninvasive methods are desperately needed for providing a richer range of information to the physicians who are managing the treatment of these highly labile infants."

"The early clinical studies reported here are leading to proof-of-concept for noninvasive monitoring of lung gases, which could be conducted as frequently as needed and in real-time. Such capabilities could have a major impact on the clinical management of preterm infants. This imaginative application is a commendable demonstration of the power of collaborations among physical and medical scientists," Bigio said.

The researchers illuminated surface skin of a full-term baby using two low-power tunable diode lasers and detected the emerging diffuse light a few centimeters away. Very distinct water vapor signals were obtained from the intestines, and detectable signals of water vapor were also obtained from the lungs. Based on their findings, the researchers expect to be able to detect oxygen as well in early pre-term babies.

A conference proceedings article will be published in the SPIE Digital Library after presentation of the paper. The team published a feasibility study on the work in the December 2011 issue of the Journal of Biomedical Optics (Editor, Lihong Wang, Gene K. Beare Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Imaging at Washington University in St. Louis).

The SPIE Digital Library contains more than 325,000 articles from SPIE Journals and Proceedings, with approximately 18,000 new research papers added each year.

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, was founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 180,000 constituents from 168 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major technical forums, exhibitions, and education programs in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. SPIE provided over $2.5 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2011.

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