22 November 2009

In an Australian first, a new $1million MRI compatible incubator designed for babies, will allow University of Queensland researchers to develop earlier and more effective treatments for newborns with brain impairment.

Until now, imaging premature babies’ brains has not been standard practice due to the shortcomings of adult equipment and the risks to these extremely vulnerable patients - despite a significant incidence of impairment.

The MRI Neonatal Incubator will be located at the Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital (RBWH) and the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH).

It slides into a standard MRI unit. This enables babies to lie undisturbed in a safe and warm environment while a non-invasive image of the brain is recorded. A safe magnetic field is used to create the images.

Internationally regarded perinatal researcher, Professor Paul Coldtiz, said the new equipment would be used by doctors for early diagnosis of impairment and enable research into prevention, as well as earlier and improved rehabilitation treatments.

“Research has shown that as the brain grows rapidly after birth, early diagnosis and treatment offers the best chance of a favourable outcome. Currently, however, many families do not discover their baby has cerebral palsy caused by brain impairment until their child is one to two years old,” Prof Colditz said.

“Early diagnosis can also reduce the stress on the family,” said Prof Colditz, who heads the Perinatal Research Centre at the UQ’s Centre for Clinical Research (UQCCR).

Professor Colditz’s established track record in the field of MRI and perinatal research has enabled him to attract a consortium of collaborators to join with The University of Queensland to purchase the unit. Partners are Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital, the Royal Children’s Hospital and the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation.

“We will be the first group in Australia able to conduct imaging of preterm babies and this opportunity has the potential to break down the current boundaries of brain impairment treatment and produce huge gains for babies and their families,” Prof Colditz said.

He said scans would provide data for the development of new categories of brain impairment and outcomes, and assist in assessing the benefits of early interventions.

A large number of doctors and researchers will be involved. The collaboration includes UQ’s Perinatal Research Unit – the largest in Australia, advanced brain imaging researchers and the nation’s only dedicated cerebral palsy research centre.

Key members of the research team, headed by Prof Colditz, are Dr Stephen Rose, UQCCR and Centre for Advanced Imaging, UQ; Associate Professor Roslyn Boyd, Director, Queensland Cerebral Palsy and Rehabilitation Research Centre, School of Medicine, RCH and UQ; Prof David Reutens, Director, Centre for Advanced Imaging, UQ. The larger research team necessary to develop better treatments for brain injury in babies include Professors David Pow, Alan Coulthard, Nicholas Fisk and Drs Kathryn Buller, Tracey Bjorkman, Mostefa Mesbah and John O’Toole.

More information:
Marlene McKendry (UQ Faculty of Health Sciences Communications Manager) – 0401 996847.