Optical measurements and imaging of neonates is instrumental in our understanding of disease progress; it allows us to track patients’ most crucial period of development at the molecular and cellular levels in real-time. Where penetration depth and tissue scattering often hinder high-resolution optical imaging in humans, the transparency of newborn skin presents a unique opportunity to utilize optical approaches. Our Division has been instrumental in advancing optical imaging research, and we use several non-invasive technologies at the bedside.

One example, pulse oximetry, uses near infrared wavelengths of light to non-invasively monitor oxygen saturation. The relatively long wavelengths allow doctors to explore deeper, directly measuring light interaction with arterial blood. Valerie Chock, M.D., is taking this technique one step further by employing near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). This modality is being used to improve monitoring of regional oxygenation levels of critically ill infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Clinical monitoring using optical imaging may help to guide therapeutic intervention in infants with altered hemodynamics, especially in those babies who have complications from premature birth such as congenital heart disease or central nervous system injury.