A new portable helmet scanner has been developed for premature and newborn babies that helps doctors save them by generating images showing // how the baby brain is working.
Currently, there are two main ways of performing brain scans on small babies. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can provide data on brain function, but MRI scanners need sedation, which carries a degree of risk.
The alternative, ultrasound, can be performed at the cot side and is effective in revealing brain anatomy - but cannot show how the brain is actually functioning.
But the Monstir scanner developed by University College London will obviate the need to move critically ill babies to conventional scanning facilities as it works by using a technique called optical tomography to generate images showing how the brain is working, reported the online edition of BBC News.
The helmet scanner, which scientists hope could be commercially available within a few years, incorporates 32 light detectors and 32 sources of low-intensity laser light and is placed on the baby's head.
The sources produce short flashes and the detectors measure the amount of light that reaches them through the brain and the time the light takes to travel. A software package uses this information to build up a three-dimensional image.
This can show which parts of the brain are receiving oxygen, where blood is situated, and evidence of brain damage.
The UCL team is also testing whether the technology could be useful in diagnosing and treating breast cancer.
Researcher Dr Adam Gibson said: "The technology we are developing has the potential to produce high-quality images at the cot side and is also cheaper than MRI.
"It could make an important contribution to the care and treatment of critically ill babies."
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