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Imaging premature lungs

Technology being developed at Middlesex University would save babies born prematurely from respiratory problems as they grow up.

The recently patented system, currently being developed by bio-imaging experts Andrew Tizzard and Richard Bayford, could give accurate real time images of the lungs allowing clinicians to accurately monitor development and assess the best course of treatment.

Premature babies are normally put on a respirator in the intensive care unit, but there is currently no technology available for giving real time accurate imaging of lung function for babies. This means that respirators could be inaccurately set, causing damage to the youngster's lung function.

The proposed Middlesex University system uses an emerging imaging technique known as Electrical Impedance Tomography (EIT) so clinicians can see how well the lungs are functioning. EIT involves a complex mathematical algorithm that needs to know an accurate shape of the chest. The proposed system consists of a 'jacket' with electrodes on the baby's body to take over 200 readings for the EIT system and a series of sensors to measure the shape of the baby's chest accurately in real-time.

Middlesex University Associate Professor in Bioengineering Andrew Tizzard, who has developed the algorithm, explains: "The thorax is never a perfect cylinder and as the baby moves, the shape changes - this technology tracks the change.

"Usually the lungs of premature babies have not fully developed. If the respirator's settings are not quite right it can do all sorts of damage, they might for example expand the lung too much, which as the child develops into adulthood can cause issues.

"If the respirator is set correctly, then the baby's lungs will grow normally and their quality of life will be normal. So the whole idea of this is we can carry out 24/7 monitoring to ensure that the lung is being ventilated properly."

There has been a whole body of work, which Professor Richard Bayford, Professor of Bio-modelling and Informatics, has been part of. It includes work on deep brain stimulation and imaging techniques to detect rectal cancer.

This development has arisen out of years of work at Middlesex University, Professor Richard Bayford said: "We applied work we were doing on brain imaging looking at shape information inside the head to lungs. What we have come up with is a way of measuring the shape in real time using a method we patented last year. This has allowed us to apply the same technology to accurately define the algorithms to measure on the lungs of premature babies.

"We chose this particular area because we know that there isn't another technology that will compete with it. CT and MRI are OK for adults but you have issues in the lungs of premature babies; it can take up to seven years for lungs to catch up with development. There is very little understood in that area and you want to get a better system for monitoring in an intensive care unit."

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