A British company has created a simple test to help premature babies

A simple bedside test that could improve the lives of millions of premature babies suffering from underdeveloped lungs has been developed by a British-Danish company.

SIME Dx, a digital diagnostics company in Microsoft’s start-up programme, has announced that its laser-based test can accurately predict which babies are likely to develop respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), the leading cause of death in premature babies.

The lung maturity test (LMT) uses a small amount of gastric fluid, a substance routinely taken from babies at birth while clearing the airways. The fluid is then placed into SIME’s device, where an infrared light beam passes through the sample to produce a unique digital signature. An algorithm then analyses this signature to identify biological markers that point to a high risk of RDS.

Woman, child, hospital

SIME is now developing a version of its device that can be used in hospitals.

Currently, RDS is routinely treated by giving babies surfactant, a liquid that makes the lungs more stable. This treatment can be harmful as it involves inserting a tube into the lungs, so doctors usually wait for symptoms to develop before taking treatment decisions.

SIME’s test can tell doctors which patients need the treatment and which do not long before a baby is sick, dramatically reducing the need for unnecessary procedures and ensuring that the babies who need help receive it very early. This helps to prevent RDS and reduce associated hospital costs.

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“By only rapidly intervening in those infants who need treatment, we can significantly improve RDS clinical outcomes, and potentially lessen the need for mechanical ventilation and oxygen,” said Professor Henrik Verder, a paediatrician at the Department of Pediatrics in Holbaek University Hospital in Denmark, lead author of the paper and inventor of the test.

“Surfactant treatment itself is very safe and effective, however, there are risks associated with the intubation required for administration.”

SIME’s clinical paper – “Rapid determination of lung maturity in premature infants at birth by mid-infrared spectroscopy” – was written after scientists predicted RDS accurately in real patient samples collected in the UK, Denmark and Sweden. The study was part funded by Horizon2020, the largest ever European funding programme for research and innovation.

SIME has been in Microsoft’s Accelerator programme for start-ups since March. “Being a part of the London Microsoft Accelerator program has been hugely beneficial for SIME. [Accelerator Chief Executive] Warwick Hill and his team have provided SIME with valuable support and technological insight that has not only helped develop the business, but more importantly the machine learning Azure cloud that makes our diagnostic platform truly innovative” said Povl Verder, Chief Executive of SIME.

Microsoft runs seven schemes across the world, offering the tools, resources, knowledge and expertise start-ups need to scale their business, bring innovative services to market and reach new customers.

SIME uses Microsoft's Azure cloud service
SIME uses Microsoft’s Azure cloud service

Hill added: “It is important for Microsoft to continue to help SIME DX in their journey as their solution is both disrupting the established diagnostic practises and advancing medical care for everyone in the world.  This aligns perfectly with our goal of empowering every person and organisation to achieve more.  We look forward working with the SIME team into the future.”

SIME’s lung maturity test is just the first application on their digital diagnostic platform, with new tests being developed for other conditions using cloud-based machine learning.