Here at I&G, we are proud to take part in groundbreaking demonstrations of technology, and perhaps nothing is quite as groundbreaking as this. Back in 2010, I&G Engineered assisted in the development and construction of the first machine in the world to successfully deliver xenon gas to a newborn baby to prevent brain injury.
The project was developed and managed by Marianne Thoresen, Professor of Neonatal Neuroscience at the University of Bristol, along with Dr. John Dingley, ABM University Health Board Consultant Anaesthetist and Reader in Anaesthetics at Swansea University’s School of Medicine. The study was funded by the children’s medical research charity Sparks, and conducted at St Michael’s Hospital, part of University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust.
How Did the Project Come About?
Every year in the UK, over 1,000 healthy babies born at full term suffer brain damage or worse. This is caused by a lack of either oxygen or blood supply when they are born. This deprivation can lead to major lifelong problems, such as cerebral palsy. Back in 1998, Professor Thoresen pioneered a treatment where newborn babies can have their body temperature lowered mildly. This helps to reduce damage in the newborn’s brain caused by a lack of oxygen. Since then, clinical trials have proven this method is safe and beneficial.
However, this method does not always work for all babies. For over 10 years prior to 2010, Dr. Dingley had been developing equipment in Swansea for xenon anaesthesia. He successfully invented a machine that delivers xenon gas to babies, and puts the exhaled gas through a waste filter and re-circulates it to be breathed again. Some types of military diving equipment works in a similar way, but the difficulty lied in building a small enough system to work for newborn babies. Dr. Dingley had this to say about the machine: “A key design feature of this machine is that it is very efficient, using less than 200ml of xenon per hour – less than the volume of a soft drinks can. Xenon is a precious and finite resource and difficult to extract so it can cost up to £30 per litre. As ventilated newborns breathe many litres of air per minute, any xenon based treatment would be impossibly expensive without an economical delivery method. Despite these challenges, the lack of side-effects and brain protecting properties of xenon make it uniquely attractive as a potential treatment to apply alongside cooling in these babies.”
What did I&G Engineering do to Help?
The machine designed by Dr. Dingley contained many components that were built specifically for purpose. Some were sourced from as far away as St. Petersburg in Russia. Dr. Dingley was quick to comment on the quality of the engineering available in South Wales: “The engineering heritage within South Wales has meant that I have been spoiled for choice whenever I have needed anything unusual constructed. Many local companies and individuals have helped me over the years, particularly PDR in Cardiff and I&G Engineering near Swansea. I designed equipment suitable for adults several years ago, however the challenges of developing a new design that works reliably and safely in babies is much greater.”
Everyone at I&G Engineering is beyond proud to have contributed towards the construction of such a ground breaking piece of technology. For more information regarding this story, take a look at this article.