Optical Tomography Could Aid Newborn Treatment

Big invention for a small head
© EPSRC

A prototype of the scanner, called MONSTIR, has been developed by researchers at University College London (UCL). The team is now aiming at reducing the size of the scanner and improve its speed of operation.

“The technology we’re 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,” says Dr. Adam Gibson, key member of the MONSTIR team at UCL that includes medics, physiologists and mathematicians.

By providing vital information about brain function at the cot side, the scanner avoids the need to move critically ill babies to conventional scanning facilities, which may involve sedating them and has a degree of risk, the scientists explain. Combining the advantages of MRI and ultrasound but avoiding their disadvantages, the device uses optical tomography to generate images: Light passes through body tissue and is then analysed by computer to provide information about the tissue.

A helmet incorporating 32 light detectors and 32 sources of completely safe, low-intensity laser light 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 3D image. This can show which parts of the brain are receiving oxygen, where blood is situated, evidence of brain damage etc.

MONSTIR is the size of a fridge-freezer and takes around eight minutes to generate an image. The scientist’s aim is to produce a version that is half this size, five times faster, more accurate and geared for clinical use.

MEDICA.de; Source: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)