Our brains consume huge amounts of energy and rely on oxygen supplied by blood vessels. When the brains of infants are deprived of oxygen for any reason, it can lead to brain injury that causes cerebral palsy, epilepsy or cognitive impairment. 

Song Hu, associate professor of biomedical engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, is teaming with Chia-Yi (Alex) Kuan, MD, PhD, professor of neuroscience at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, to study abnormal oxygen metabolism in injured neonatal brains with a five-year, $2.9 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health.

Hu will use photoacoustic microscopy (PAM), an imaging method exceptionally effective at imaging blood and oxygen flow in the body, to measure the cerebral metabolic rate of oxygen (CMRO2) in a mouse model of neonatal hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), which occurs in one to six of every 1,000 live births in the U.S.

Using the high-tech imaging method, they will compare the changes of CMRO2, mitochondrial respiration and brain energy after hypoxia-ischemia; test whether CMRO2 predicts the outcomes and benefits of hypothermia treatment against hypoxia-ischemia; and test the efficacy of several drug therapies as a stand-alone or adjuvant treatment to hypothermia.

“Photoacoustic microscopy tells us how efficiently the brain is delivering and consuming oxygen for energy metabolism,” Hu said. “PAM is very well positioned to study this disease.” 

Hu will use PAM to monitor the mouse models over various lengths of time to determine what happens to oxygen consumption in the brain along with the disease progression. 

“The beauty of this model is that the injury happens only on one side of the brain, we can use the other side as a control,” he said. “This study will allow us to better understand the injury mechanism of HIE and to test how well those investigational interventions can reduce the brain injury.”

 

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