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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 February, 2005, 23:54 GMT
Device to save premature babies
Image of a premature baby
The device works alongside current monitors
A cot-side device that checks vital signs such as heart rate and breathing could save the lives of many more premature babies, say doctors.

It uses technology to predict signs of distress and organ failure in premature babies before they actually happen.

This would give doctors an early warning that they need to take preventative action.

Professor Neil McIntosh and colleagues at Edinburgh University are trialling their device.

This has a really good chance of giving us an early warning system
Professor Neil Marlow, professor of neonatal medicine at Nottingham University

Hospitals already use commercial monitors to check vital signs that allow the doctor to tell how a baby is doing.

However, looking at real-time readings - as they happen - will not always alert doctors that there is a problem until it is quite advanced.

Professor McIntosh said: "For example, we know that if a baby's lungs rupture when ventilated it takes about two hours to make the diagnosis and about 40% of such babies would die.

"With our system we can pick up almost all of those within 10 minutes.

"That clearly gives a lot of time to manage the baby and get them out of the downwards spiral that they might otherwise get into," he said.

The device comprises a normal computer with advanced software that took the team 10 years to develop.

Vital signs

The software looks at the data recorded by the commercial monitors and looks for downward trends in a baby's vital signs long before the baby reaches crisis point.

The team are still working out the best way to alert doctors when such trends are spotted, which could include a buzzer and a written warning that would flash across the computer screen.

Professor McIntosh said they have been monitoring about 10 babies at a time using their new device.

The team have three years funding to continue their work, involving more than 2,000 premature babies.

The long term aim is to produce a cot-side monitoring system, which would cost about 1,000 a piece, to roll out across UK hospitals.

Professor Neil Marlow, professor of neonatal medicine at Nottingham University said: "This has a really good chance of giving us an early warning system.

"I would hope this would be valuable for all babies needing continuous monitoring in a neonatal intensive care unit."

Around 80,000 babies in the UK and Ireland are born prematurely each year and 17,000 of these need intensive care, according to the premature baby charity BLISS, which has helped fund the project.

Find out how the new software works

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