Near-Infrared Spectroscopy, Other Advancements Continually Improve Level of Care in NICU
Neonatologists have begun using Near-Infrared Spectroscopy to measure oxygen delivery and consumption in the brain and tissues of the babies in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.
Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) “enables us to measure the oxygen supply to the brain and kidneys in some of the most vulnerable babies we treat,” says neonatologist Nathan Gollehon, M.D., Children’s Specialty Physicians, Neonatology, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, assistant professor of Neonatology at UNMC College of Medicine.
“NIRS allows us to detect changes that we might not otherwise be able to see or measure,” Dr. Gollehon says. “Detecting these changes early means we can prevent sick infants from getting sicker.”
The technology is particularly useful in treating babies with congenital heart disease. For example, one NICU baby was experiencing recurrent bradycardia, or a slow heart rate. Dr. Gollehon says Children’s neonatologists used NIRS to measure the impact of the bradycardia on the baby’s perfusion and supply of oxygen to the tissues.
“Without NIRS technology, there would be no way to detect the significant drops in oxygen delivery that were occurring,” he says.
In the future, measuring these changes in oxygen delivery may help improve the neurological outcomes of the most fragile NICU patients, Dr. Gollehon says. “We can also detect sepsis and shock earlier with this technology, which may allow us to take proactive steps to prevent damage, as opposed to waiting for other signs of illness to appear as the child gets sicker.”
NIRS has previously been used in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Children’s. “We are taking what the intensivists have learned from it there and are bringing that knowledge into the NICU,” Dr. Gollehon says.
Another advancement making its way into neonatology includes personalized medicine. One example of this is genetic testing for cystic fibrosis and the disease mutations associated with it.
“We are starting to see therapeutics designed for specific mutations,” Dr. Gollehon says. “I think it is very likely in the next few years we will see a specific medication targeting specific changes in the genetic code.”