UT Southwestern Medical Center pediatric researchers have harnessed an analytical tool used to predict the weather to evaluate the effectiveness of therapies to reduce brain injury in newborns who suffer oxygen deprivation during birth. Their research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The analytical tool, called wavelet analysis technology, is best known for predicting long-term weather patterns, such as El Niño. UT Southwestern researchers say this same analytical tool can help improve assessment and treatment of newborns with asphyxia, which is when the baby’s brain is deprived of oxygen due to complications during birth.
The noninvasive method produces real-time heat maps of the infant’s brain that doctors can use to determine whether therapies to prevent brain damage are effective.
“These are babies to whom something catastrophic happened at birth. What this technology does is measure physiologic parameters of the brain – blood flow and nerve cell activity – to produce a real-time image of what we are calling ‘neurovascular coupling.’ If there is high coherence between these two variables, you know that things are going well,” said Dr. Lina Chalak, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern and lead author of the study.
The wavelet analysis correlates information from two non-invasive technologies that are currently used on a day-to-day basis in neonatal intensive care: amplitude EEG and near infrared spectroscopy. The approach combines the results from these commonly done tests in a sophisticated way and creates a new proxy measure of brain health called neurovascular coupling. When neuronal activity and brain perfusion are synchronized – as indicated by large areas of red on heat maps created by this method – treatment is working well.
About 12,000 newborns experience oxygen deprivation (asphyxia) during birth in the U.S. each year, according to a 2010 article in Lancet. No treatments were available until about 10 years ago when a national study in which UT Southwestern participated, showed that reducing the baby’s core temperature could counteract the impact of birth asphyxia for some infants. The cooling blankets are now standard treatment, but only about half of babies treated with a cooling blanket benefit.
Until the adaptation of the wavelet technology, doctors couldn’t determine which infants were benefiting from cooling treatment and which babies may need additional therapies, which are being developed. Wavelet technology also may help determine which children should be treated.
“Of the babies who are oxygen-deprived, some don’t qualify for cooling because their brain damage or encephalopathy is judged to be mild. Yet some of these children have adverse outcomes. This technology may help us identify who needs cooling,” said Dr. Rashmin Savani, Chief of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics and of Integrative Biology, who holds The William Buchanan Chair in Pediatrics.