April 12, 2012, 3:36 PM — A Toronto hospital is implementing a clinical experiment using big data and real-time analytics to help save the lives of its tiniest patients.
Catching LONS is a tricky business in a human-only clinician environment. Typically, it's often up to the experienced nurses who will use their knowledge and instincts to see a range of subtle clinical signs to determine a baby is "not quite right."
Dr. Carolyn McGregor, lead researcher on Project Artemis, University of Ontario Institute of Technology
When you watch a premature baby lying still in a clear plastic cradle in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, it is hard to imagine that something so small would have a real shot at survival. The obstacles these pre-term infants face are huge: immature lung development, undeveloped immune systems, and a very real change for disabilities -- that's just a small sample of the challenges infants born before 37 weeks of gestation face.
Advances in medical science have made these challenges much more beatable, and many pre-term infants have managed to beat the odds and live successful and happy lives.
Unfortunately, the very medical care that these tiny patients receive can be a vector for infections that, with their compromised immune systems, can be very life-threatening. This class of infections (which can be viral, bacterial, or even fungal) is referred to as nosocomial infections, which is basically any infection a patient picks up in a hospital environment.
Nosocomial infections can be nasty for full-grown adults, and unless doctors and nurses act fast, they can be deadly for premature infants. One of the worst of the bunch is an infection known as late onset neonatal sepsis (LONS). Complicating this is the sad fact that by the time a premature infant starts exhibiting symptoms of LONS infection, things have already gotten pretty bad for the infant. Blood tests aren't even that conclusive, since false-negative results are a real problem when you can't extract that much blood to test.
Launched in 2008
At a glance: Project Artemis
Project Artemis is a real-time data gathering and analysis framework that takes signals from babies' heart monitors, and processes them for signs of late onset neonatal sepsis infection, and immediately alerts health care teams.