Newborn seizures

Tiny Storms

Research focuses on seizures, metabolism in neonates

issue 1 | winter 2012

Many NICU infants are at risk for seizures, and care during their initial, vulnerable days of life may have life-long benefit when it reduces brain injury and damage that can cause lasting neurologic disorders. Research at U-M focuses on opportunities to improve understanding of brain function in infants and to prevent long-term morbidity such as cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and epilepsy.

"In one study, we use neonatal EEG and advanced signal analysis algorithms to monitor seizures and identify patterns that reflect underlying brain injury or brain function," says Renée Shellhaas, M.D., M.S., a neonatal neurologist and principal investigator on the NIH-funded study. "In conjunction with EEG, we also use near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to evaluate oxygen metabolism in the brain, and polysomnography to monitor sleep-and-wake cycling. Infants are then followed for 18 months, so we can assess how they learn and grow over time."

Few institutions nationwide are equipped to bring this array of technology to the NICU bedside, for both clinical and research purposes. The ultimate goal is to design interventions to prevent brain injury. However, identifying unfavorable patterns of EEG activity, brain metabolism and sleep cycling could also improve physicians' precision in estimating prognosis.

This study focuses on full-term newborns who are at risk for seizures and require EEG monitoring, including infants with brain hemorrhages or infections, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, congenital brain malformations or other known risk factors. Infants undergo several days of intensive multimodality neuro­monitoring and then participate in long-term developmental follow-up assessments.

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