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Research into pain perception in babies

Marianne van der Vaart, a sixth-year medical student, has been able to do seven months of research into pain perception in infants at the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Oxford, thanks to a LISF scholarship.

Better diagnostics with the help of a new program

"Thanks to the LUF, I had the opportunity to focus on the question: Can parents, doctors and nurses properly assess the extent to which 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? ", says Marianne.

"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 has pain or not and therefore difficult to determine whether a baby needs pain relief. The degree of pain babies experience is currently being 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

By working with the program 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 graduate as a physician and as a biomedical scientist. My experience in Oxford taught me what I find interesting (neuro-development) and what I want to do after my study (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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