Every second counts for shaken babies

July 18, 2005

Brisbane researchers are hoping to prove the dangers of shaking babies by creating a model that will show how quickly babies can be injured.

The University of Queensland research team of civil engineers and a child health expert is working on a numerical model that will tell when a baby's brain could be damaged by violent shaking.

Shaking can cause Shaken Baby Syndrome which swells a baby's brain and triggers internal bleeding.

Shaken Baby Syndrome causes death in one third of cases while other babies will have permanent brain damage.

The research team has been using a replica of a six-week-old baby to refine their numerical model of a baby brain which consists of complex formulae.

They record the doll's head and neck movements when it is shaken and compare these with brain scans and video of injured babies.

"From our analysis we can predict what sort of stresses are within the brain and these stresses will tell us whether there are injuries," UQ civil engineering PhD student Zac Couper said.

Mr Couper is working with his supervisor UQ civil engineering Senior Lecturer Dr Faris Albermani and Department of Child Health Clinical Associate Professor Dr Denis Stark.

Dr Albermani, who normally works with power lines or buildings, got involved when Dr Stark approached UQ's Department of Civil Engineering to see if it was possible to simulate the mechanics of Shaken Baby Syndrome.

He said the model would not only help predict injuries but could help form guidelines for caring for and handling babies.

It would also allow more accurate evidence to be given in court and help develop safer playgrounds and play equipment.

The syndrome has been used in a number of Australian criminal cases but is being challenged in Britain by four people contesting convictions for child abuse.

"The area is not well understood as to exactly what sort of shaking will cause damage," Dr Albermani said.

"Some medical literature says even normal baby handling like tossing or swinging could cause these injuries. Others say, no, there has to be impact."

The team will give its second presentation about its progress to the Abused Child Trust next month but it is seeking further funding to continue its work.
-end-
Media: Dr Albermani (61-733-654-126, f.albermani@uq.edu.au) or Miguel Holland at UQ Communications (61-733-652-619)

Research Australia

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