A 15-minute scan can help diagnose brain damage in a baby up to two years earlier than current methods.
In a study with more than 200 babies in seven hospitals across the UK and the US, researchers found a brain scan, called magnetic resonance imaging (MR), predicted damage with 98 percent accuracy.
Brain damage affects about one in 300 births in the United Kingdom, and is usually caused by the oxygen deprivation. However, currently doctors can not accurately assess the degree of brain damage to newborns.
Any child suspected of having any kind of damage gets a MR scan immediately after birth. This allows the doctor to look at the black and white images of the brain in order to make any areas of the brain look lighter than others, as this can lead to damage. Doctors then use this information to provide parents with an assessment of the size of the lesions and possible long-term disabilities that the child can face.
However, this method is only between 60-85 percent accurate and relies on an individual radiological assessment, which means that the prognosis can vary depending on who estimates the scan and where the scan is performed. Therefore, health workers can only confirm whether the child has permanent brain damage when they reach the age of two, assessing whether the young man has achieved his development goals such as walking and talking.
In a new study, led by Imperial College London, scientists used MR spectroscopy to evaluate the health of brain cells in an area called Talamus, which coordinates numerous functions, including movement, and is most often damaged by oxygen deprivation.
Scanning specifically tests a compound called N-acetylaspartate – high levels found in healthy brain cells, called neurons. Level 9-10 is found in healthy neurons, while level 3-4 shows damage.
The technology used is identical to that required for an MRI scan and requires only a baby to spend an additional 15 minutes in the scanner.
In a new trial, published in the Lancet Neurology, the scan was performed simultaneously with a routine MRI scan when the baby was between four and 14 days.
Scanning does not carry additional costs for the NHS, and data can be easily analyzed using special software by any radiograph.
Dr Sudin Thaiiil, the author of the study and director of the Center for Perinatal Neuroscience at the Imperial Medical Department, said: "At this moment, parents have an incredibly tense two-year wait before they can be reliably informed if their child has long-lasting brain damage But our trial – the largest of this kind – suggests this additional test, which will only require an additional 15 minutes in a MR scan, can give parents the answer when their child is only a few weeks away, which will help them plan the future and get the care and resources To support their long-term development. "
At the trial, which was funded by the National Institute for Health Research and the Medical Research Council, all babies received the so-called " Cooled therapy immediately after birth. This is now a routine treatment for newborns with suspected brain damage and involves placing a baby on a special maturation that reduces body temperature by four degrees. Evidence has shown that body cooling can help reduce brain damage and reduce the risk of long-term disabilities.
Then, soon after this therapy, the babies had a brain scan and a detailed assessment of the development in two years of life. The results suggest that MR spectroscopy accurately predicted the level of development of the youngster for two years in two weeks.
Dr Thaiiil added that scanning can help scientists develop new treatments to combat brain injury in the babies: "At this point, while doctors are testing a new therapy that can increase the development of children with brain damage, they have to wait two years until they can evaluate whether treatment It is necessary to study a large number of babies, but with this new scan it will be able to assess it almost immediately, with a much smaller number of newborns. "
He added that the next step is to introduce a scan in several United Kingdom hospitals as a clinical tool. "Most NHS hospitals already have the capability and software to perform this scan, it's just a matter of raising awareness and training."
"I remember fear when we did not hear the scream" – Christine's story
Christine Reklaitis gave birth to her daughter Georgian in 2016 and participated in a trial at the Imperial College NHS Trust in London.
She said: "I had a healthy pregnancy, but during my pregnancy, my grandmother was trying to find the heart of Georgiana, and she was born shortly after her through emergency surgery.
I remember the fear when we did not hear any pay after she was born, but she gratefully smelled and was taken to intensive care and placed in the incubator. The doctors told us that she would calm her, which we thought sounded unusual, but she was told she would reduce her risk of brain damage.
We asked that we participate in the trial and we quickly agreed. We felt that the treatment of our daughter was beneficial to past studies, so we wanted to help develop future treatments.
After the first scan, we were told that the levels of the compounds in their brain cells were low, but they were incredibly relieved when the scan several weeks later showed that levels were elevated to normal levels.
Since then it has hit all of its development goals, and it is a normal two-year and a lot of energy. We are kidding on a cool treatment that stayed with her, because she never wants to wear a coat when we get out.
We are so pleased that we participated in this trial – and we hope that research helps other families. "