Diffusion MRI for modelling the normal neurodevelopment of the infant brain


Together with our collaborators at the Queensland Cerebral Palsy and Rehabilitation Research Centre and the Perinatal Research Centre, we are investigating the relationship between early MRI and clinical assessments, and clinical outcomes. Infants recruited in this study are born at less than 31 completed weeks of gestation. We have access to one of only three available MRI compatible incubators in Australia, which gives us the unique ability to acquire high quality MRI data at a very early age. Brain images are acquired at 30 weeks postmenstrual age, and again 10 weeks later at term-equivalent age.

Figure 1. T2 map and Diffusion Weighted Images at 30-32 weeks of age and term equivalent age.

Very preterm infants (born between 23-31 weeks gestation) have a high risk of an adverse neurodevelopmental outcome. One in ten of these infants may end up with cerebral palsy, while half of these infants have later learning and behavioural difficulties. However, if high risk infants are identified early (within the months immediately after birth) there is substantial scope to reduce and even prevent later difficulties because at this stage the brain has a very large capacity for repair via the mechanism of neuroplasticity. Early identification and tailored therapy at an early stage is critical to achieving the best possible outcomes for these infants.

The aim of this project is to develop an approach to model the normal neurodevelopment of the infant brain and identify abnormal development by differences in the structures seen within the brain on MRI. The project is also examining how the white matter pathways develop with age, the extent to which different parts of the brain communicate, and unique approaches to resolve the presence of motion. We are using these methods to predict the potential for adverse neurodevelopment earlier and to more accurately identify those in need of therapy.

The research will enable major advances in the management of preterm babies, and has the potential to reduce the burden of Cerebral Palsy on the health system, while increasing the integration of these children into society.

Team and Contact

Dr Kerstin Pannek: kerstin.pannek@csiro.au

Dr Jurgen Fripp: Jurgen.fripp@csiro.au