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The new system, developed by researchers at Oxford University, uses an an electroencephalogram (EEG) to quantify the amount of pain-related brain activity experienced by an infant. While the system still needs to be refined for accuracy and isn’t quite ready for medical use, it could one day be used to assess the amount of pain a baby is enduring during a painful procedure, and the degree to which pain relievers may or may not be working. The details of this work can be found in the latest edition of Science Translational Medicine.

Because babies don’t speak, doctors and nurses have to rely on other measures to assess the degree of pain being experienced by their tiny patients. Crying and gesticulating are two obvious clues, but babies tend to do those things on the regular. Other indicators of pain include nostril flaring, bulging brows, eye squeezing, and an increased heart rate. These measures are highly subjective, and each baby expresses his or her own response to pain in specific ways, forcing healthcare practitioners to make an informed guess about the state of their patient.

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