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Researchers develop software to detect potential health problems in newborns

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Australian researchers have developed a new software to check for potentially serious health problems of vulnerable babies and infants.

Details of the medical breakthrough, published in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library on Tuesday shows that it can be used with digital stethoscopes to gain advanced screening of hearts and lungs to enable a more accurate diagnosis of cardio-respiratory complications.

The researchers from Monash University said their invention can be used in hospitals or by parents at home and may also be particularly beneficial in developing countries or remote regions with limited health resources.

“The software removes all the surrounding noise from chest recordings, so the heart and lung sound are separated and very clean,” said Faezah Marzbanrad from the Monash University Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering.

The sound clarity, which may be hindered by a variety of factors, can significantly affect monitoring and diagnosis, the team said.

The researchers said the software, when used at home, automatically gives parents a score on the quality of the recorded chest sound, so they will know whether it is good enough for the doctor to analyse, or they need to reposition the digital stethoscope and collect another sample.

“They can put their digital stethoscope to a newborn’s chest and collect sound,” Marzbanrad said, adding that it “can be very specialised placement on the back or chest to get the sound that is needed by a doctor, so the software will guide them to the right location”.

The team,working with the Monash Children’s Hospital, have tested the software by listening to the chest sounds of 119 preterm and full-term babies.

“Chest sounds in newborn babies are very difficult to assess and interpret especially in preterm and/or sick babies,” said Atul Malhotra, senior neonatologist and head of Early Neurodevelopment Clinic at the hospital.

“We rely a lot on chest X-rays and invasive blood gas monitoring,this software gives us a much better resolution to interpret, assess and monitor newborn illness,” he said.

The software will be further trialed in conjunction with new digital stethoscope hardware and is expected to be available by the middle of this year.

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Sheji Halima

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