In a first, researchers have developed a method based on machine learning, that can evaluate the development of a premature infant's brain.
The new electroencephalogram (EEG) software -- which can record the electrical activity of the brain -- is the first EEG-based brain maturity evaluation system in the world, the researchers said.
EEG monitoring combined with automatic analysis provides a practical tool for the monitoring of the neurological development of preterm infants and generates information which will help plan the best possible care for the individual child.
“The new method gives us a first-time opportunity to track the most crucial development of a preterm infant, the functional maturation of the brain, both during and after intensive care,” said lead researcher Sampsa Vanhatalo, Professor at the University of Helsinki in Finland.
One in ten live births is a premature one. The many health impediments associated with preterm birth can hinder brain development.
Knowing how the brain functions of infants develop can help provide the best possible care and develop new forms of treatment, but till now no objective and sufficiently precise methods for evaluating the early-stage maturity of the brain was available.
In the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, a large amount of EEG data on preterm infants was fed into a computer, and the software calculated hundreds of computational features from each measurement without intervention from a doctor.
The functional maturation in preterm infants was measured by serial recording of brain activity.
The maturation estimate was so reliable and precise that in each of the 39 preterm infants in the study, the functional development of the brain could be tracked when the measurements were repeated every few weeks, the researchers said.