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ICFO and TinyBrains platform set to assist pediatric care

23 Nov 2022

Near-IR and diffuse spectroscopy can monitor oxygenation and cerebral blood flow.

A project coordinated by Spain's ICFO research center is developing a photonics-based instrument able to monitor infant brain blood flow as an aid to pediatric care.

TinyBrains, backed by €3.7 million in European funding, aims to create a research tool based on biophotonics technologies and electroencephalography to assess oxygen metabolism, electrophysiology and other parameters of the infant brain.

The primary goal is to assist in the diagnosis and care of congenital heart defects, known to be closely connected with infant neurovascular problems and abnormal blood supply, although the exact relationship appears to be complex.

TinyBrains intends to study these connections using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and diffuse correlation spectroscopy (DCS), integrating the two modalities into a single imaging device that can be worn on an infant's head.

Speaking at SPIE Photonics West 2021, ICFO project coordinator Turgut Durduran commented that the two complementary photonics modalities had already been used in harness for the study of adult brain blood flow, with the lessons learned now being applied to infant care.

"We use near-infrared spectroscopy, generally time-resolved, to measure blood oxygen saturation and the concentrations of oxy- and deoxy-hemoglobin; and diffuse correlation spectroscopy to measure the cerebral blood flow itself," commented Durduran during the SPIE Photonics West Digital Forum.

Durduran and ICFO also created the Vascovid project in 2020 using the same family of modalities to monitor the microvascular health of Covid-19 patients, a further example of the reach such optical monitoring of blood flow could have.

Need for standardization across clinics

One hurdle for the use of these technologies in pediatric care is the lack of current standardization regarding their clinical use, something which ICFO has tackled as part of its technology development program.

A study by Durduran and colleagues assessing the performance of commercial continuous wave near-IR oximeters across 10 international medical centers carried out phantom and in vivo testing to measure the precision and reproducibility of measurements of local blood oxygen saturation and total hemoglobin concentration.

The results showed "that these devices can be used in multi-center trials, but care must be taken to characterize, follow-up, and statistically account for inter-device variability," according to the team's published paper.

TinyBrains runs until the end of 2024, by which time it expects its platform to able to measure cerebral hemodynamics, oxygen metabolism and electrophysiology simultaneously, providing spatial resolution to this class of measurements for the first time.

"Being able to understand what is happening within these vulnerable brains at any given time, and why, can definitely help us find new strategies to protect them and improve their neurological development," commented neonatologist Marta Camprubí from Hospital Sant Joan de Déu, Barcelona, addressing the value of the instrument TinyBrains is developing.

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