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Measuring Brain Oxygen in Babies


Athinoula A. Martinos Center
Massachusetts General Hospital

Fetal-Neonatal Neuroimaging & Developmental Science Center
Department of Newborn Medicine
Children’s Hospital Boston

Department of Newborn Medicine
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

What is our goal?
We aim to develop an instrument capable of continuous, noninvasive bedside monitoring of brain health and development.

How does the monitoring work?
The optical system measures the blood volume and blood flow in your baby's brain, which allow us to calculate the amount of oxygen used by the brain. Studying babies at different ages will tell us how these parameters change over time, and how they vary in different regions of the brain.

What have we found so far?

  • Brain oxygen saturation is not sensitive to evolving brain injury
  • Brain blood flow, blood volume, and oxygen consumption (rCMRO2) increase with injury  
  • Routine antiepileptic therapy does not alter the changes associated with brain injury
  • Therapeutic hypothermia does decrease brain blood flow and oxygen consumption compared to normals
  • Therapeutic hypothermia does not decrease brain blood volume compared to normals, indicating that systemic changes due to cooling may be complicating cerebral physiology
  • In premature neonates (< 36 weeks gestational age), oxygen consumption correlates better with corrected gestational age than chronological age
  • Premature neonates measured at 40 weeks corrected gestational age have higher oxygen consumption than full-term neonates on days of life 1-3
  • Although healthy full-term neonates have a range of oxygen consumption and flow values, they are different from individual neonates with brain injury and neonates undergoing therapeutic hypothermia

Who works on the study? Our research team includes doctors, nurses, scientists, and technologists who are trained and experienced in working with babies in the NICU.


Baby Group

(L to R) Ivy Lin: Phd Student; Mathieu Dehaes, PhD: Research Fellow; Andrea Surova, BA: Research Laboratory Manager; Maria Angela Franceschini, PhD; Principal Investigator; Ellen Grant, MD: Co-Principal Investigator & Site Responsible Investigator, Children's Hospital Boston; Angela Fenoglio, BA: Research Assistant; Nadege Roche-Labarbe, PhD: Research Fellow

(Not pictured) Alpna Aggarwal, MD: Clinical Fellow, Newborn Medicine; Linda Van Marter, MD, MPH: Site Responsible Investigator, Brigham and Women's Hospital


For more information, contact:

Maria Angela Franceschini, PhD
Email: mari(at)
Phone: 617-726-4024


Ellen Grant, MD
Email: Ellen.Grant(at)
Phone: 857-218-5111



From the Study

  1. Franceschini, M.A., Thaker, S., Themelis, G., Krishnamoorthy, K.K., Bortfeld, H., Diamond, S.G., Boas, D.A., Arvin, K. and Grant, P.E. (2007). "Assessment of infant brain development with frequency-domain near-infrared spectroscopy." Pediatr Res 61(5 Pt 1): 546-51.
  2. Grant, P. E., Roche-Labarbe, N., Surova, A., Themelis, G., Selb, J., Warren, E. K., Krishnamoorthy, K. S., Boas, D. A. and Franceschini, M. A. (2009). "Increased cerebral blood volume and oxygen consumption in neonatal brain injury." J Cereb Blood Flow Metab 29(10): 1704-1713.
  3. Roche-Labarbe, N., Carp, S.A., Surova, A., Patel, M., Boas, D.A., Grant, P.E., and Francheschini, M.A. (2010). “Noninvasive optical measures of CVS, StO(2), CBF index, and rCMRO(2) in human premature neonates’ brains in the first six weeks of life.” Hum Brain Mapp 31(3): 341-352.
  4. Dehaes M., Grant P.E., Sliva D, Roche-Labarbe N., Pienaar R., Boas D.A., Franceschini M.A. and Selb J. (2011), Assessment of the frequency-domain multi-distance method to evaluate the brain optical properties: Monte Carlo simulations from neonate to adult}, Biomed. Opt. Express 2(3), pp. 552-67.
  5. Roche-Labarbe, N., Fenoglio, A., Aggarwal, A., Dehaes, M., Carp, S.A., Franceschini, M.A. and Grant, P.E. (2011). "Near-infrared spectroscopy assessment of cerebral oxygen metabolism in the developing premature brain." J Cereb Blood Flow Metab.
  6. Lin, P.-Y., Roche-Labarbe, N., Dehaes, M., Fenoglio, A., Grant, P.E. and Franceschini, M.A. (2012). "Regional and Hemispheric Asymmetries of Cerebral Hemodynamic and Oxygen Metabolism in Newborns." Cereb Cortex.

From the Martinos Center

  1. Baird, A.A., Kagan, J., Gaudette, T., Walz, K.A., Hershlag, N. & Boas, D.A. (2002). Frontal lobe activation during object permanence: data from near-infrared spectroscopy. Neuroimage, 16(4), 1120-1125.
  2. Boas, D. and Franceschini, M.A. (2009). "Near-infrared imaging." Scholarpedia 4(4): 6997.
  3. Boas, D.A., Strangman, G., Culver, J.P., Hoge, R.D., Jasdzewski, G., Poldrack, R.A., Rosen, B.R. & Mandeville, J.B. (2003). Can the cerebral metabolic rate of oxygen be estimated with near-infrared spectroscopy? Phys Med Biol, 48(15), 2405-2418.
  4. Bortfeld, H., Fava, E. and Boas, D.A. (2009). "Identifying cortical lateralization of speech processing in infants using near-infrared spectroscopy." Dev Neuropsychol 34(1): 52-65.
  5. D'Arceuil, H.E., Hotakainen, M.P., Liu, C., Themelis, G., de Crespigny, A.J. & Franceschini, M.A. (2005). Near-infrared frequency-domain optical spectroscopy and magnetic resonance imaging: a combined approach to studying cerebral maturation in neonatal rabbits. J Biomed Opt, 10(1), 11011.
  6. Hintz, S.R., Benaron, D.A., Siegel, A.M., Zourabian, A., Stevenson, D.K. & Boas, D.A. (2001). Bedside functional imaging of the premature infant brain during passive motor activation. J Perinat Med, 29(4), 335-343.
  7. Wilcox, T., Bortfeld, H., Woods, R., Wruck, E. & Boas, D.A. (2005). Using near-infrared spectroscopy to assess neural activation during object processing in infants. J Biomed Opt, 10(1), 11010.
  8. Wilcox, T., Bortfeld, H., Woods, R., Wruck, E., Armstrong, J. and Boas, D. (2009). "Hemodynamic changes in the infant cortex during the processing of featural and spatiotemporal information." Neuropsychologia 47: 657-662.


This research is supported by National Institutes of Health Grants R01-HD42908 and 1 R21 HD058725-01A
Previous grants: NIH K23NS42758, MGH interim support, and the Claflin Distinguished Scholar Award