Groundbreaking medical scans reveal babies’ brain development

May 10, 2017

The first batch of groundbreaking medical scans that show the step-by-step process of human brain development in babies has been released by a team of UK scientists from the King’s College London, Imperial College London, and the University of Oxford.

The data can be used by researchers all over the world to understand what healthy brain growth looks like, the Developing Human Connectome Project experts said. The detailed MRI scans could also improve understanding of conditions such as autism and cerebral palsy.

The medical scans precisely plot how the billions of neurons form and connect together.Newborn human brains contain trillions of pathways, packed into an organ that is about the size of a small tangerine.

So far, the scientists have released data they collected by scanning 40 babies a few days after birth.

According to the team of scientists, the task of scanning newborn babies’ brains has been incredibly challenging.Lead investigator Professor David Edwards said getting permission from new parents to allow their babies to be scanned was “a big ask”.

“It’s perfectly safe. There’s no radiation or X-rays involved. But we are incredibly grateful to the families who have taken part in this work. It’s contributing hugely to science,” he said.

Their plan is to scan many more newborns, as well as babies still growing in the womb. Then they will create a dynamic map of human brain connectivity.

Having lots of data means scientists will be able to study what is normal and abnormal in terms of brain development, Edwards said. “We can start to answer important questions, like what happens to the brain when babies are born prematurely or how does the brain develop differently in children with autism.”

The work, which is funded with a EUR14.9-million grant from the European Research Council, will take a few more years to complete.

When it is finished, the researchers say theirs will be the biggest and best-quality collection of baby brain development images ever gathered.

A map of adult brain connections has already been made.


Category: Education, Features

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