Shaping the future of brachycephaly prevention

Helmets are often used to treat brachycephaly in older children. Image: Flickr/Idjjj

Here’s an excerpt from an interesting piece that ran on Vector, Children’s Hospital Boston’s science and innovation blog. It describes new research being done to correct and prevent brachycephaly, a skull deformity that can occur to the back of an infant’s head as a result of resting on a firm or semi-firm mattress.

Having patients wear a corrective helmet has been the primary form of treatment for older children with brachycephaly, but parents and medical professionals have found that these helmets can be uncomfortable for some babies. In response, Michele DeGrazia, a neonatal nurse practitioner in Children’s Hospital Boston’s NICU and the unit’s director of nursing research, is studying new ways to treat brachycephaly in infants, and do so without too much movement restricting headgear.

“I was originally going to study head shape in children who spend a lot of time in car seats,” says DeGrazia. “But then I learned from a colleague about a new device called the Cranial Cup that is designed to help full term babies with plagiocephaly and said, ‘We need to try this in the NICU.’”

After working with Boston Brace, the device’s designers, to downsize it to fit the smaller bodies of premature infants, DeGrazia ran a pilot study of the Cranial Cup in 2009. “We were able to help them shrink the device down to fit a 1,000 kilo premature baby,” says DeGrazia. “We also added cushioning pads, covers, and ‘bed buddy’ bumper pillow to help make the babies more comfortable and secure.”

The results of the pilot were promising enough for her to launch her current study, which, with the support of Patient Services Research Grant, compares the Cranial Cup with another device called the Z-Flo that may also help prevent head flattening.

Michele DeGrazia

DeGrazia and her team aim to recruit 160 premature and full term infants following birth over the course of the study. They are comparing the effects of the two devices by mapping the infants’ heads using a laser scanner, in addition to standard measurements of head shape.

DeGrazia marvels at the combination of people and fields from technology, medicine, and nursing that have come together in the study to improve baby care. “This truly is cutting edge, multidisciplinary, multicenter research. We are currently recruiting here and at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital” she says. “We hope that through this study we won’t have to send babies home with head shapes that stay like this for the rest of their lives, or force them to wear a helmet.”

For the entire article, visit Vector by clicking here.