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New methods to measure brain temperature

A senior academic will use her inaugural professorial lecture to explain how she has introduced new methods of measuring and monitoring brain temperature to take a new look at the role of fever in the recovery of brain injury patients.

 Professor Charmaine Childs, of Sheffield Hallam University's Centre for Health and Social Care Research, has been working with clinicians across the world to use new technologies to measure brain temperature. Her work suggests that, contrary to the widely held belief in healthcare that raised temperature is harmful after brain damage, that there is a case to support the view that fever may not be as damaging as previously thought. 

Charmaine introduced different probes for the measurement of brain temperature during her role within the Brain Injury Research Group at the University of Manchester and then travelled to the National University of Singapore where she introduced a new probe that had the capacity to measure brain pressure, brain temperature and brain oxygen content which would be inserted 3cm into the front of the brain by a neurosurgeon.

A non-invasive method was also introduced to allow comparisons to be made between injured patients and healthy people. Charmaine worked with a team of imaging scientists in the UK, Finland and Singapore, to develop imaging and magnetic resonance (MR) spectroscopic techniques that can measure chemicals in the brain to determine its temperature via MR scanning.

Charmaine's project then moved to find out if a raised temperature is harmful to brain-injured patients. Working with her research team, she trialled the new brain monitoring methods on over 100 severely brain injured patients at hospitals in Manchester and later in Singapore.

Charmaine said: "By averaging a patient's temperature during the critical first 24 hours after admission to hospital and taking in to account other factors which are known to be important in predicting outcome such as the severity of the injury itself, we found that a rise in brain temperature from 'normal' by 1 to 2 degrees celsius did not, as previously thought, increase the risk of death, but was actually associated with a lower probability of death within the first 30 days after injury."

The team also found that patients with prolonged periods of fever were not in the high mortality group as might have been expected and concluded that people whose brain temperature did not rise naturally after injury, seemed to do worse.

"Fever isn't a disease, it's a response to tissue damage as well as to invading bacteria and is a classical sign of inflammation that has developed for a reason," said Charmaine.

"Fever accompanies the changes in the body that come with healing and recovery. When you're ill and have overwhelming infection, if you try to knock out the fever, it can prolong the illness and increase the risk of death especially in patients with severe infections.  Of course if fever becomes exaggerated, this too can be detrimental. In the brain temperature studies, the lowest mortality rates were observed in patients with normal to moderate increases in brain temperature.

"We've been trying to use the latest technology to make advances in our understanding of disease and to ensure that measurements are robust. Achieving this in a particularly inaccessible organ like the brain is not without its challenges but I have worked with very supportive clinical partners both in the UK and Singapore, and we seem to have made it happen."

Charmaine is now working to advance her research in her post as professor of clinical science at Sheffield Hallam and will be presenting her work tonight at her inaugural professorial lecture, 'How 'hot' is the injured brain? A journey from the outside to the centre of the human body.'

For press information: contact Sarah Duce in the Sheffield Hallam University press office on 0114 225 4025 or email pressoffice@shu.ac.uk

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