Research to reduce risks to pre-term babies

UC mechanical engineer Cameron Gunn has won a Fulbright scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

He will be looking to develop a system for pre-term babies to help nurses determine insulin doses.

Extremely pre-term babies – born less than 30 weeks – are susceptible to high blood sugar levels known as hyperglycaemia. Insulin can be used to manage blood sugars, but patient reaction to the drug is widely varied. High sugars risk organ failure, but low sugars risk brain damage.

“Pre-term babies require significant careful treatment and in New Zealand, Maori are generally over-represented in pre-term births.

“I want to study the skills related to general decision-making systems, which are well established, and then apply it later to medical decision making systems, which are not.

“Event-triggered and self-triggered control systems are some of these general skills that I think will have useful applications in medical decision systems.

“Rather than checking a baby patient every hour, we could use more sophisticated measures to see when babies are fine on their own or when they need much more frequent attention from nurses.

“My underlying research at UCLA will be using an engineering approach for medical decision making but my area of application will be different. I will work with blood sugar in pre-term babies.”

Gunn says clinicians are required to make choices on drug doses without comprehensive tools. But now we computers can be applied with statistical databases to make patient-specific choices at the bedside and improve care.

“A decision-making protocol computer simulates treatments and then balances risk against effectiveness to find the best treatment. The system is used on a tablet computer so it can be brought to the bedside.

“This system improves the care opportunities for pre-term infants, an incredibly at-risk group, by improving the safety and effectiveness of insulin therapy.

“The underlying success of this project is simplicity, and using as little information for maximum benefit. Because the system requires only a few blood sugar readings a day, it has no additional costs and doesn’t take up extra nurse time.”

Gunn’s supervising lecturer Professor Geoff Chase says Gunn was one of the top few scholars his department has seen in the past 5 to 10 years.

“Compared to postgraduate students, both here and from my years as a postgraduate student at Stanford University, Cameron is one of the best and certainly in the top five percent,” Professor Chase says.

For further information please contact:
Kip Brook
Media Consultant
Student Services and Communications
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 3325
Mobile: 027 5030 168

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