Perinatal brain injury remains a significant cause of infant mortality and morbidity, but there is not yet an effective bedside tool that can accurately screen for brain injury, monitor injury evolution, or assess response to therapy. The energy used by neurons is derived largely from tissue oxidative metabolism, and neural hyperactivity and cell death are reflected by corresponding changes in cerebral oxygen metabolism (CMRO2). Thus, measures of CMRO2 are reflective of neuronal viability and provide critical diagnostic information, making CMRO2 an ideal target for bedside measurement of brain health.
Brain-imaging techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET) and single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) yield measures of cerebral glucose and oxygen metabolism, but these techniques require the administration of radionucleotides, so they are used in only the most acute cases.
Continuous-wave near-infrared spectroscopy (CWNIRS) provides non-invasive and non-ionizing radiation measures of hemoglobin oxygen saturation (SO2) as a surrogate for cerebral oxygen consumption. However, SO2 is less than ideal as a surrogate for cerebral oxygen metabolism as it is influenced by both oxygen delivery and consumption. Furthermore, measurements of SO2 are not sensitive enough to detect brain injury hours after the insult 1,2, because oxygen consumption and delivery reach equilibrium after acute transients 3. We investigated the possibility of using more sophisticated NIRS optical methods to quantify cerebral oxygen metabolism at the bedside in healthy and brain-injured newborns. More specifically, we combined the frequency-domain NIRS (FDNIRS) measure of SO2 with the diffuse correlation spectroscopy (DCS) measure of blood flow index (CBFi) to yield an index of CMRO2 (CMRO2i) 4,5.
With the combined FDNIRS/DCS system we are able to quantify cerebral metabolism and hemodynamics. This represents an improvement over CWNIRS for detecting brain health, brain development, and response to therapy in neonates. Moreover, this method adheres to all neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) policies on infection control and institutional policies on laser safety. Future work will seek to integrate the two instruments to reduce acquisition time at the bedside and to implement real-time feedback on data quality to reduce the rate of data rejection.