London, Nov 29 (IANS): Researchers have developed an AI model to predict long-term outcomes in extremely premature babies early in life.
Though much progress has been made in neonatal care, infants born before 28 weeks still show a very high risk for long-term difficulties with cognition and movement. Predicting these potential issues early is vital, allowing health care providers to tailor support right from the start.
The model, developed by University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, can identify which infants might face intellectual disability as they grow. When further developed, it could offer crucial insights for health care providers as well as valuable information for parents about their child's expected developmental journey.
The new study, published in The Lancet Digital Health, marks a crucial step towards developing a tool for early detection that, in the future, could guide parents and medical teams to support vulnerable infants more effectively.
The AI model was able to identify with reasonable accuracy which infants might struggle with intellectual disability later in childhood. The model analysed recordings of the brain's electrical activity, called EEGs, of 369 infants in the first three days after birth.
It was able to distinguish between infants that turned out to have a low IQ and those with optimal outcomes at early school age, with an accuracy of approximately 80 per cent.
"This kind of knowledge is invaluable," said neonatologist Maria Luisa Tataranno.
"It means that extra help, resources, and care can be directed where they are most needed, right from the earliest days."
A glimpse into the future of extremely premature babies will not only help doctors make the right choices. It will also offer parents of premature babies valuable information. These parents often struggle with uncertainty about their child's future.
"The question they ask us most often is 'What can we expect?'," said Maria Luisa.
"An accurate prediction could ease their worries or help them prepare for what lies ahead."
She cautions that much work remains to be done to actually get such a tool to the hospital bedside, though.
The team wants to continue working to improve the AI model in the coming years.
"EEG is just the beginning," said Xiaowan Wang, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering.
"We plan to incorporate more types of medical data such as MRI scans of the brain, as well as data about blood oxygenation and possibly even babies' movement patterns, to further refine our predictions."