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Technology to Help Doctors Care for Premature Babies

July 25, 2008

IBM and University of Ontario Institute of Technology collaborate with Canadian Hospital to help predict changes in infants' condition.


ARMONK, NY and TORONTO--(Marketwire) - IBM (NYSE: IBM) and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) announced a first-of-a-kind research project to help doctors detect subtle changes in the condition of critically ill premature babies.

The project will see a group of internationally recognized researchers, led by Dr. Carolyn McGregor, a UOIT associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Health Informatics, use advanced stream computing software developed by IBM Research to work toward greatly enhancing the decision-making capabilities of doctors. The software ingests a constant stream of biomedical data, such as heart rate and respiration, along with environmental data gathered from advanced sensors and more traditional monitoring equipment on and around the babies.

The researchers will also use the software to apply findings from Dr. McGregor's body of research to help make "sense" of the data and, in near-real-time, feed back the resulting analysis to health-care professionals so they can predict potential changes in an infant's condition with greater accuracy and intervene more quickly.

Physicians in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children and two other international hospitals are participating in the study.

Monitoring "preemies" as a patient group is especially important as certain life-threatening conditions such as infection can be detected up to 24 hours in advance by observing changes in physiological data streams.

The type of information that will come out of the research project is not available today. Currently, physicians monitoring preemies rely on a paper-based process that involves manually looking at the readings from various monitors and getting feedback from the nurses providing care.

"This research has the potential to greatly impact neonatal care through reduced mortality and morbidity rates and overall health-care costs," said Dr. McGregor. "By merging our research and technology, we are able to collect more detailed patient data in a systematic manner, do online health analysis and decision support, and get advanced early warning of emerging patterns that could predict a medical event."

When fully developed, IBM's software will be capable of processing the 512 readings per second generated by some of these medical devices, and UOIT researchers will further test and develop its ability to analyze these vast quantities of data in real time.

Initially researchers will use NICU medical devices in UOIT's state-of-the-art Health Informatics Laboratory to test IBM's software using simulated patient mirroring data. Then the software will be tested using de-identified actual patient data. The de-identified data is recorded in a way that enables researchers to alter some variables, play it back and run simulations for further study.

IBM awarded Dr. McGregor access to the prototype software patented by researchers at its T.J. Watson research facility in New York under its First-of-a-Kind program, which is designed to accelerate the delivery of innovative technologies to the market and link IBM's research work to real world problems.

"Right now, there is an enormous amount of critical data produced by machines monitoring patients," said Don Aldridge, business executive for IBM research and life science. "That creates a challenge. The ability to quickly analyze that data and make informed decisions will help improve the overall quality of health care."


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