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Premature birth

About 500 000 babies are born early in Europe every year, for some the condition is fatal. Complications relating to being born prematurely are the leading causes of fatality in the under-fives. Improving feeding, mitigating the impact on the brain and rethinking prevention – our three projects are doing what they can to push back these numbers.

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Insights and ideas

One in 10 children is born before the 37th week of pregnancy – potentially impacting lungs, causing blindness and interrupting the brain’s development. The World Health Organization recently reported there are approximately 6 400 newborn deaths every day, amounting to nearly 47 % of all child deaths under five. Preterm infants have a lower level of nutrient body stores and immature body systems, resulting in a higher risk of malnutrition. Imbalanced complementary feeding could lead to further risk of nutritional deficits and excesses. A mother’s milk is perfectly balanced to feed full-term babies, but when it comes to feeding their premature infants, the milk needs fortification. Given that the contents of the milk can change from day-to-day, and the need of the infant is constantly altering, we hear how sensitive sensors can tell healthcare professionals what nutrients a mother’s breast milk is missing, accurately and instantly. The optimisation of nutrition can help the child to thrive physically, but being born prematurely can have profound impacts on how the child’s brain has developed prior to birth. One of our guests heads a laboratory that is developing ways to identify babies at risk and tailor approaches to stimulate development in the areas that are challenged, on an individual basis. But wouldn’t it be ideal to step in before a woman goes into labour prematurely? A guest tells us how his project is feeding into the development of a wearable monitor that can share data indicating risk with healthcare providers in real time, all while the mother is in the comfort of her own home. Audrey van der Meer is co-director of the Developmental Neuroscience Laboratory and professor of Neuropsychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. She is particularly interested in the infant brain, with its enormous plasticity and capacity to learn from day one, which she explored during the AIM_COACH project. Isabel Hoffmann is a deep-tech entrepreneur. By harnessing technology and connectivity, she is working to help create a world in which food contributes to health, not to societal diseases. Her company Tellspec was behind the Preemie project which is developing innovative ways of personalising nutrition to help premature babies thrive. Julien Penders is co-founder of Bloomlife, a company designing wearable technologies and predictive analytics to promote prenatal health. Bloomlife developed WISH, a device paired with data analytics to increase access to care, provide personalised feedback to mothers, and help doctors predict and manage pregnancy complications.

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CORDIScovery, CORDIS, AIM_COACH, Preemie, WISH, premature birth, wearable, neuropsychology, nutrition, monitor