Detecting Infection In Babies Before It Even Occurs

Technology is being developed in Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children to detect infections in premature babies before they even occur. This extremely sensitive monitoring system alerts the physician if a life-threatening infection in the baby could occur, before they show any outward detectable signs. It pulls its indications from tell-tale changes in the baby’s heart rate, body temperature, respiratory rate, and blood pressure up to 24 hours before the infection really takes hold. This allows time for the physician to take measures to prevent the infection from occurring in the first place.

A doctor, too busy to watch any single baby for hours on end, cannot monitor every subtle change. Instead, the monitor’s computations grant the doctor the luxury of being alerted; they are then able to concentrate their time on deciding whether to proceed with treatment or to monitor more closely. This early action can be much more important to the baby’s survival than treatment administered after becoming infected.

This project, dubbed Artemis at its birth at Sick Kids in 2009, is still in the research and testing phase.  A research collaboration between Dr. Carolyn McGregor – Canada Research Chair in Health Informatics at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology – Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital, and IBM Canada, it is said to only be one third complete, and is projected to run another seven years of trials. Twenty percent of neonatal intensive care beds at Sick Kids are now hooked up, and other hospitals in China and the U.S. have even begun sending data to Dr. McGregor’s laboratory for analysis. There is only upward movement in the future of this project.

One of the most revolutionary aspects of such a device is the surety that it will be of great use in preventing infections in premature babies in remote communities, “where access to neonatal intensive care units is rare. If this research works we can monitor a premature baby in the North, analyse the data in the city, and talk to the pediatrician and say ‘Look, an infection might be developing,” points out Dr. McGregor. Where before the only option was treatment after the fact for these babies waiting days for a plane, now we can beat the bacteria to the baby. The implementation of this technology will limit that of bacterial infections, across hospitals and across the country. “In this case, technology is the enabler” says Aditya Pai, healthcare managing consultant with IBM. Technology and people are working hand in hand to prevent infection in premature babies, and coming out ahead.

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