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Research into pain perception in babies

As a sixth-year medical student at Leiden University, Marianne van der Vaart got the chance to reseach pain perception in infants. With a LISF-scholarship, she travelled to Oxford to work on her computer model at the university's department of pediatrics.

Better diagnostics with the help of a new program

"Thanks to LUF, I had the opportunity to focus on the question: Can parents, doctors and nurses properly assess the extent of their baby or patient indicates pain? And by using different measurements, can we make a better distinction between the reactions of babies to a painful heel prick and a non-painful touch?", Marianne explains.

"I hope that in the future such a program can be used in research into the effectiveness of new medicines in babies."  

It is not always easy for parents and medical staff to see whether a baby is in pain or not and it is therefore difficult to determine whether a baby needs pain relief. The degree of pain babies experience is currently assessed on the basis of facial expressions, heart rate, breathing, withdrawal reflexes and changes in brain activity. During her project, Marianne researched the value of a model that reads these variables and then makes an estimate of the pain experience of the child.

Learned a lot

Working in Oxford, Marianne learned to program in Matlab, but the learning experience was much broader. The diverse composition of the research group taught her to approach problems from different angles. In addition, she has experienced the power and usefulness of public engagement in science.

It was also an enriching experience on a personal level. Marianne: "In August 2018, I graduated as a physician and as a biomedical scientist. My experience in Oxford made me realise what I find interesting (neuro-development) and what I want to do now (PhD!), but also what kind of doctor and researcher I want to be later: one who works together, explains well and has eyes for each individual."

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