Researchers using photonics - or the science and application of light - are to launch a clinical trial to monitor the lungs of newborn babies at Cork University Maternity Hospital.

The trial will see how effective the technology is in the monitoring of lung function in newborns, and reducing the need for x-ray exposure.

The newly developed non-invasive optical device applies small probes on the baby's chest to detect oxygen levels and evaluate lung aeration, providing immediate information on lung capacity, according to researchers.

They say the easy-to-use laser technology will improve the management of newborn infants with breathing problems, particularly premature babies.

NIOMI (Non-Invasive Lung Oxygen Monitoring of Infants) is a collaboration between the INFANT Research Centre at University College Cork, and the IPIC at the Tyndall National Institute.

The clinical trial is due to begin in 2021.

Professor Eugene Dempsey, INFANT, says the technology "has the potential to change the way we manage these babies, help to avoid invasive mechanical ventilation and reduce longer-term lung problems".