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Raquel de Almeida Lima
Neonatal Sister

The first two years of a child’s life are a critical time for neurodevelopment.

Children’s brains rapidly develop during this period, with a huge number of connections formed as they learn new skills.

Raquel de Almeida Lima is involved in trialling a play-based tool to assess children’s development.

Her research forms part of a six-month Research Initiation Award. This is supported and funded by the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) Wessex and our Southampton Academy of Research (SoAR).

Assessing children’s neurodevelopment

Raquel has been involved in a feasibility study on a neurodevelopment tool known as INTER-NDA. She does this alongside Southampton’s Prof Jon Dorling, Dr Michelle Fernandes and Dr Mark Johnson.

Healthcare professionals can use INTER-NDA to measure cognition, fine and gross motor skills, language, and behaviour in two-year-old children.

This play-based tool has been used in more than 25,000 children in 19 countries. It’s been shown to have good sensitivity and reliability compared to other tools that assess neurodevelopment. It is also easy to administer by non-specialist healthcare professionals and cross-cultural validated. This means INTER-NDA is a good tool to reduce the workload in neonatal outpatient clinics, while meeting the standards for developmental surveillance at two years old.

Raquel's internship runs from June to December 2023. She has been responsible for the study’s ethical approval and project management. She has also been involved in recruiting participants in the neonatal clinics and conducting the INTER-NDA assessments.

“Taking part in the study has been a positive experience for both the children and their parents,” says Raquel. “The vast majority of families have been overjoyed to see their children interacting with objects such as blocks, a teapot and crayons.

“I’ve noticed parents are often surprised by how effortlessly their children engage in these activities.”

Switching to a research career

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Raquel realised the profound influence public health has on daily activities at UHS.

She became increasingly interested in how to improve maternal, perinatal and newborn health at a global level. That led her to apply for a master’s degree in Public Health at the King’s College London.

Her passion for research came from the joining of her practice as a neonatal nurse with her new experience in academia.

Raquel says the Neonatal Unit at Princess Anne Hospital has been an inspiring environment. It has given her the chance to work with brilliant researchers on impactful projects. This has strengthened her passion and reinforced her commitment to this career path.

After the end of her internship, Raquel plans to maintain her involvement in the study. She plans to continue to work on the analysis and publication of the findings. In the longer term, she is highly motivated to pursue a PhD to advance her studies and research abilities further.

The SoAR team have been there to provide support throughout her switch to a research career. As well as funding her internship, they’ve given her access to online resources and opportunities to connect with researchers.

“SoAR has been an incredible champion throughout this journey,” says Raquel.

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