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Light better than x-ray to examine lungs of premature babies

The method could provide a non-invasive way to continuously monitor a baby's lung function.
By Stephen Feller   |   March 22, 2016 at 1:10 PM

LUND, Sweden, March 22 (UPI) -- Researchers in Sweden found light can be used to examine the lungs of premature babies without exposing them to x-ray radiation, according to a recent study.

Meant to find easier, non-invasive methods to observe lung function in babies born early, the Lund University study suggests light could be used to measure oxygen function in the lungs.

Premature babies' organs often have not fully developed, including the lungs, requiring doctors to monitor them for proper processing of oxygen after birth. While x-ray technology is somewhat effective, researchers said it can be imprecise and also exposes the babies to radiation unnecessarily, increasing the potential for other health complications.

The researchers also say a less invasive form of monitoring, which can be done continuously -- which x-rays cannot -- would be preferable for the best possible care.

Researchers say they can detect the presence of gases by calculating the amount of time it takes for light to return after being aimed at an area. While this has been difficult in areas with free gases, such as the lungs, the researchers said they have found a reliable form of measurement in these cases.

"Today, the method requires one person to hold a measuring instrument against the baby's chest, while another sits by the computer, registering the results," said Emilie Krite Svanberg, a researcher at Lund University, said in a press release. "Our goal is to simplify this technology."

The study, published at the Lund University website, was conducted in two parts, with 15 healthy, full-term babies evaluated using continuous-wave near-infrared spectroscopy, or CW-NIRS and 17 healthy, full-term babies evaluated using photon time-of-flight spectroscopy, or PTOFS.

Based on other technology using light to measure oxygen held in blood cells, the researchers tested various wavelengths of light and found a beam of exactly 760.445 nanometers allows for a precise measure of oxygen in the lungs.

The researchers said the light measurement could be used to determine if a baby's breathing is impeded, and the method can be used to minimize the potential injury from reinflating collapsed parts of a lung or other treatments.

"We hope that the measurements will be possible to perform automatically, by using small transmitters attached to the baby's chest," researchers wrote in the study. "This would enable measuring the lung function continuously, in a way that is completely safe and that doesn't bother the child."

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