Predicting the Future

Early analysis of potential future problems
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The MRI scans were able to determine abnormalities in the white matter and gray matter of the brains of very pre-term infants, those born at 30 weeks or less. Following the baby from birth to age 2, the researchers were able to grade those abnormalities to predict the risk of severe cognitive or psychomotor delays, cerebral palsy, or hearing or visual impairments that may be visible by age 2.

"With the MRI, now we can understand what's going wrong in the developing brain when the baby is born early," said Inder, associate professor of paediatrics, radiology and neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Recent data show that 50 percent of children born prematurely suffer some neurodevelopmental challenges, such as crawling, walking upright, running, swinging arms, and other activities that require coordination and balance. Among pre-term infants who survive, 5 percent to 15 percent have cerebral palsy, severe vision or hearing impairment or both, and 25 percent to 50 percent have cognitive, behavioural and social difficulties that require special educational resources.

The MRI scans show lesions on the infants' brains, as well as which region of the brain is affected and the severity of the risk for future developmental delays. For example, if a lesion is in the area of the brain that controls fine and gross motor skills, the risk is higher that the child will have some type of developmental delay in movement. Paediatricians would then know that the child would benefit from immediate physical therapy, Inder said.

"We can use these results to determine which baby would benefit most from physical, occupational or speech therapy," Inder explained. "We can also help prepare the parents for future challenges with learning delays and developmental disabilities."; Source: Washington University School of Medicine