Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis have developed a novel way of tracking folding patterns in the brains of premature babies using magnetic resonance 3D brain images. Understanding the development of the folds, which are as unique to individuals as fingerprints, could lead to new diagnostic tools for brain disorders, reports theSource, an official publication of the school in Missouri.

During the third trimester, a baby’s brain undergoes rapid development in utero. The cerebral cortex dramatically expands its surface area and begins to fold, with each fold being as individual as a person’s fingerprint. Previous work suggests that this quick and very vital growth is an individualized process, with details varying from infant to infant.

Working with collaborators at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, engineering doctoral student Kara Garcia accessed magnetic resonance 3D brain images from 30 preterm infants, who were then scanned by Christopher Smyser, MD, associate professor of neurology, and his pediatric neuroimaging team. The babies were scanned two to four times each during the period of rapid brain expansion which typically happens at 28 to 38 weeks.

Using a new computer algorithm, Bayly, Garcia and their colleagues—including faculty at Imperial College and King’s College in London—obtained accurate point-to-point correspondence between younger and older cortical reconstructions of the same infant. From each pair of surfaces, the team calculated precise maps of cortical expansion. Then, using a minimum energy approach to compare brain surfaces at different times, researchers picked up on subtle differences in the babies’ brain folding patterns.

It’s a measurement tool that could prove invaluable in neonatal intensive care units, where preemies face a variety of challenges. Understanding an individual’s precise pattern of brain development also could assist physicians [in] trying to make a diagnosis later in a patient’s life.

Get the full story at theSource.