Informatics the future of healthcare

Fri, Nov 25, 2011, 00:00

NEONATAL DIAGNOSTICS:TREATMENT FOR BRAIN seizures in babies born prematurely is really simple. It involves applying a cooling pack to the head to bring down the temperature. The big problem is detecting when a brain seizure is actually taking place.

Because premature babies’ brains are not fully developed, they do not show the same signs of distress during a seizure as a full-term baby or an adult. This means it is impossible to detect a seizure until after it has occurred and possibly caused catastrophic brain damage.

A multidisciplinary research team from UCC led by neonatal expert Prof Geraldine Boylan has come up with a pioneering solution. The team has developed a piece of software that can be used in conjunction with existing monitoring equipment in neonatal intensive care units to monitor brain activity in real time. It interprets the brain waves and alerts staff that a seizure is occurring so the baby can be treated immediately.

To help get this groundbreaking research from the lab bench to market, Enterprise Ireland linked the UCC team with Cork-based diagnostics company Open Innovation Partners, which is working with a number of third-level institutions to spin-out healthcare research into the commercial environment.

The company (trading in this case as Neonatal Diagnostics) will license and commercialise the technology with a view to launching it on the market by June next year subject to regulatory approval.

“The team has developed an automatic seizure detection algorithm that immediately alerts clinicians if something happens,” says Diarmuid Cahalane, chief executive of Neonatal Diagnostics and head of compliance for Open Innovation Partners. “There have been huge advances in recent years in the field of informatics and this is its application in a health setting. There is great potential to develop this type of technology further in healthcare to monitor (remotely if required) patients in real time with a view to early intervention. We believe the focus should be on maintaining wellness through advanced diagnostics that stop problems before they become critical.”

Positive reaction to the new software has been swift and global and Cahalane is hopeful of US Federal Drugs Administration approval by March next year. The main target market for the product will be medical device manufacturers making equipment for use in intensive care settings.