SFI centre awarded €570,000 to develop AI monitoring for newborns

6 Feb 2018

From left: INFANT director and professor of neonatal physiology at UCC, Geraldine Boylan, with Delphi project research fellow Dr Keelin Murphy. Image: Clare Keogh

INFANT, an SFI-funded research centre, has been awarded a substantial sum to develop a newborn brain monitoring system powered by AI.

The welfare of newborn children is about to receive a major boost with news that the Science Foundation Ireland-funded Irish Centre for Foetal and Neonatal Translational Research (INFANT) is receiving €570,000 to develop a smart brain monitoring system.

Called Delphi, the artificial intelligence (AI) technology will help to detect the severity of brain damage as soon as possible, enabling early intervention and appropriate therapies tailored to each individual baby.

Brain injury at birth – be it from a lack of oxygen, sepsis or other conditions – could lead to the newborn child having permanent disabilities such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy or learning difficulties.

That is why early detection of neonatal brain injury can be vital to improve outcomes and reduce the impact of brain damage.

Existing techniques track a baby’s heart rate, respiration, temperature and blood pressure when in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). However, electrical monitoring is not routinely available due to its complexity and the need for expert interpretation.

Now, with this new funding awarded by global charitable foundation Wellcome Trust, INFANT will create a prototype monitoring system using modern deep-learning techniques.

Enormous impact on newborn brain health

Delphi will analyse neonatal electrical brain patterns and combine this data with other vital sign information to provide an overall brain health index for the baby. It will eventually be integrated into cot-side patient monitoring of all babies in the NICU.

Led by machine-learning researcher Dr Keelin Murphy, the Delphi project will be overseen by INFANT director Prof Geraldine Boylan, who recently featured in Siliconrepublic.com’s Sci-Tech 100 list.

“This award by Wellcome Trust acknowledges the calibre of research capability and global impact of the work that we are doing at INFANT,” Boylan said.

“We are delighted to partner with the Wellcome Trust on this two-year research project, which will undoubtedly have enormous impact on newborn brain health research and provide a new and smart way of monitoring the brains of newborns so the earliest and most appropriate treatment can be delivered.”

Since its launch in 2013, the SFI research centre based at University College Cork and Cork University Maternity Hospital has won more than €30m in research income from national and EU programmes, industry, and philanthropic investment.

Updated, 12.52pm, 6 February 2018: This article has been updated to clarify that INFANT was launched in 2013, not 2015.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic