Newborn babies’ brain responses to being touched on the face measured for the first time

A newborn baby’s brain responds to being touched on the face, according to new research co-led by UCL. Babies use this sense of touch – facial somatosensation – to find and latch onto their mother’s nipple, and should have this ability from birth.

Premature babies often have difficulty feeding, and underdevelopment of their facial sensitivity may be one of the main causes. Researchers from UCL, Imperial College London, UCLH and Universitá Campus Bio-Medico di Roma developed a new method to study this sense of touch in babies and how their brains reacted using electroencephalography.

Current methods of evoking brain activity in response to touch aren’t suitable for a newborn’s face, so academics have developed a device – based on a transducer – worn on the fingertip, covered by a clinical glove. The baby can be lightly tapped on the cheek, and then brain responses are measured as well as the force of the tapping.

The report, “A novel sensor design for accurate measurement of facial somatosensation in pre-term infants”, is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Climax

The new Climax Professor of Clinical Therapeutics will join the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences at the Medical Sciences Division and St Hilda’s College in February 2019 to lead Oxford’s answer to a key global challenge – how to determine quickly which potential new therapies have the properties to become important medicines.