The Neuro-NICU Program aims to prevent brain injury in infants through detecting and preventing neurological problems, such as seizures. Seizures, especially those that occur in the first month of life, destroy brain cells and can cause learning difficulties, memory problems, developmental problems and a predisposition to developing epilepsy later in life.
Under direction of MJ Harbert, M.D., our program is the only one of its kind in Southern California and one of only 10 such programs in the country. Dr. Harbert, who leads an expert team of neurologists, is one of approximately 30 neonatal neurointensivists in the world.
In our program, infants who are exhibiting signs of seizures, such unstable vital signs or lack of alertness, are immediately put on an electroencephalogram (EEG) to check their brain’s electrical activity. If they begin to have seizures, they are treated with anticonvulsant medication. We also have a large computer server for our EEGs with protected online access, which enables our doctors to monitor brain signals remotely. As a result, we can spot a seizure even when we’re not physically at the hospital.
Another common source of brain injuries in infants is perinatal asphyxia, which can occur when a newborn is deprived of oxygen at birth. For this condition, the standard of care is treatment with a cooling blanket to reduce the newborn’s temperature. Rady Children’s has been using induced hypothermia treatment for several years, and as the result of a study enabled by our program (see below), hypothermia treatment is being started sooner, in the ambulance, while babies are being transferred to our NICU from the hospitals where they were born.
Through our collaboration with UC San Diego, our program is actively involved in cutting-edge research, including:
- Assessing the effectiveness of initiating hypothermia during transport
- Evaluating anti-convulsant medications that limit seizures
- Testing the effectiveness of a wireless EEG, a stamp-sized wearable patch of tiny circuits, sensors and wireless transmitters that sticks to the skin like a temporary tattoo. It would replace all the wires that are currently used to monitor infants.