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article imageScanning the brains of infants to predict disabilities

By Tim Sandle     Jan 22, 2017 in Health
Toronto - A new way of assessing a premature infant’s brain, following birth, can predict whether the child will go onto develop a disability. The research has been empirically tested and there is a high level of predictability.
The approach involves mapping the location and volume of lesions, which represent small areas of injury in the brain’s white matter. A concentration of lesions can aid medics in predicting if a baby will have disabilities later in life.
Premature birth brings several risks, including brain injury. The rate of premature births within an area like the U.S., based on data assembled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one in 10. Brain injury occurs due to a lack of oxygen and this can lead to damage to white matter. Damage here leads to disruption to nerve fibers and brain communication, especially the signals sent to muscles.
As the lead researcher behind the new assessment, Dr. Steven P. Miller, frpm The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, states in a research briefing: “In general, babies who are born before 31 weeks gestation have a higher risk of thinking, language and movement problems throughout their lives, so being able to better predict which infants will face certain developmental problems is important so they get the best early interventions possible. Just as important is to be able to reassure parents of infants who may not be at risk.”
Dr. Miller’s research involved examining a set of premature infants over a period of seven years. Across this time period, the researchers identified 58 babies with white matter injury (via magnetic resonance imaging). The babies were later evaluated, at 18 months, for indicators of disability: motor, thinking and language skills.
In determining whether disability was likely to occur, the researchers found that a high amount of injury was the key factor, no matter how great the damage, was a determinant. This was irrespective where injury occurred in the brain. It was additionally discovered that injury in the frontal lobe led to thinking problems.
The research shows that the use of brain scans for premature infants is important and that the data gathered can serve as an important predictor of later health.
The findings are published in the journal Neurology, with the paper succinctly titled “Toward quantitative MRI analysis.”
More about Babies, Disability, Disabilities, Baby, MRI scans
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