Health Life

Using machine learning to predict pediatric brain injury

ECMO machines such as this one save countless lives, but in some cases can lead to brain injury. A UT Southwestern study used machine learning to accurately predict which babies and children might be most at risk of injury from ECMO treatment. Credit: UT Southwestern Medical Center

When newborn babies or children with heart or lung distress are struggling to survive, doctors often turn to a form of life support that uses artificial lungs. This treatment, called Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), has been credited with saving countless lives. But in some cases, it can also lead to long-term brain injury.

Now, a research team led by UT Southwestern scientists has shown that a machine learning program can predict, more accurately than doctors, which babies and children are most likely to suffer injury after ECMO. The study was published last month in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.

“Doctors have always had some intuition about who might be at risk, but until now we really haven’t had good data to pinpoint what factors are precipitating brain injury from ECMO,” says study leader Lakshmi Raman, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern and a critical care specialist at Children’s Health. “I don’t think we’ll be able to fully eliminate these injuries, but I hope that with better predictions we can mitigate the risk.”

ECMO works by routing blood out of a patient’s body, pumping it through a device that adds oxygen, removes carbon dioxide, and keeps the blood warm before returning it to the body. ECMO is used in both children and adults, but the most frequent patients are newborns. The therapy takes pressure off the heart and lungs while they mature or recover from injury.

Many patients treated with ECMO end up with brain complications, however, and doctors don’t

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Diets rich in fish and vegetables may boost your brain power

Kale and salmon, anyone? The foods you choose for meals and snacks may help you build a stronger body and help preserve brain function.

Scientists at the National Eye Institute studied how plant-based foods of the Mediterranean diets could affect our eyes as we age. The study tracked 4,000 participants over a 10-year period, checking their brain function every few years. In addition to their eye-related research, the scientists had two key findings around brain function and aging.

People following a Mediterranean-style diet had a lower risk of brain function decline. Additionally, this type of healthy diet is associated with slower brain function decline.

The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy approach to eating. It focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish, and olive oil. In the study, eating a diet rich in fish and vegetables appeared to have the most positive effect. Study participants who ate the most fish had the slowest rate of brain function decline.

For people interested in trying out some heart- and brain-healthy recipes, visit MedlinePlus’ Healthy Recipes pages. Recipes like “Grilled Tuna with Chickpea and Spinach Salad” or “Poached Salmon” offer ways to incorporate fish, legumes, and vegetables into your meals in a delicious way.

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