Scientists at the Monash Institute of Medical Research (MIMR) are carrying out studies to understand the relationship between blood pressure and the amount of oxygen in a preterm baby's brain.
"Many preterm babies suffer from low blood pressure, which reduces the oxygen supply to their brain," said neonataologist and MIMR PhD student, Dr Flora Wong. "This makes them much more vulnerable to a range of neurological problems such as cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, low IQ levels and hyperactivity."
"In healthy, full-term babies, a drop in blood pressure would generally not have such serious consequences, as these babies appear to 'auto-regulate' blood and oxygen flow in the brain. Working with the Monash Medical Centre's Newborn Services team, we're investigating to what extent the immature brain of a preterm baby is able - or unable - to carry out this key process," Dr Wong said.
A machine, called a near-infrared spectroscopy, provides brain oxygen levels in preterm babies. Dr Wong and the MIMR team are the first in Australia to have access to the newly-developed machine, which, for the first time, allows scientists to monitor preterm babies continuously, and at the baby's bedside.
"Our new near-infrared spectroscopy is a huge advantage for our research. As blood pressure is a constantly-changing, dynamic process, it is vital for us to be able to monitor the changes in brain oxygen levels continuously. With the machine we were using up until now, there was a high risk we were missing some of the minute fluctuations that can have serious implications for preterm babies. This is particularly the case for babies needing treatment of low blood pressure," said Dr Wong.
"The fact we can carry out this work at the baby's bedside means minimal disruption to a baby whose health is so critical."
"A cquiring this piece of equipment is a big step forward for us. We believe we will soon have the data that will tell us to what extent preterm babies can auto-regulate blood and oxygen flows in the brain. This will greatly assist in caring for these babies, particularly those needing treatment for low blood pressure," Dr Wong said.