Inside the Preemie Brain
Reported December 2005
SAN FRANCISCO (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- Babies born prematurely face a host of health concerns, including future developmental problems. Now, a new kind of incubator helps doctors get a better look inside premature babies' brains.
MRI images can help doctors determine which babies will have these problems, but getting those images can be dangerous. Now, new technology solves the problem and keeps the babies safe.
When it comes to preemies -- everything is little -- including their brains. Imaging a premature baby's brain can be tricky. For years, doctors only used ultrasounds because transporting a baby to an MRI unit is dangerous.
Jim Barkovich, M.D., a pediatric neuro-radiologist at UCSF Children's Hospital in San Francisco, says, "You really worry about their blood pressure because their blood pressure can drop just from moving them too much."
Dr. Barkovich is using this specially designed incubator conceived by a team of doctors, nurses and engineers. It rolls right up to the MRI machine and allows doctors to get a clearer picture. "You can look at it to see the metabolites of the brain and whether the metabolites are normal or abnormal," he says.
The metabolites are just one of many indicators that reveal whether a baby may have developmental problems. The incubator provides constant heat and has built-in oxygen tanks. A strap keeps the baby's head in place. Special cables allow nurses to monitor heart rate and blood pressure, and a camera lets them see the baby.
After 106 days in the hospital, Kathy Ramsey and Andrew Ramsey now have baby Martha home. Martha was born prematurely and as all premature babies do, needed hospital care for many weeks following her birth. "It was a day we were looking forward to for a long time," Kathy says.
As part of the study, Martha used the MRI incubator two times and didn't seem to mind it. Andrew says, "She slept through both of them." Luckily, Martha's scans came back normal. Now, everyone can rest a little easier.
The special unit is now used at a handful of hospitals across the country.
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Dr. Barkovich's incubator and about babies involved in the study:
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