A study into how premature babies’ brains develop will lead to the earlier diagnosis of brain impairment in preterm children.

Preterm babies are at risk of cerebral palsy, mild motor impairment, cognitive deficits and educational difficulties, with some risking developmental disabilities. Early diagnosis is key

University of Queensland (UQ) researchers used medical imaging techniques to map the brain wiring of preterm babies when they reached their expected due date, and compared it to brain connections of full-term babies.

UQ Centre for Clinical Research and the Perinatal Research Centre Director Professor Paul Colditz said the mapping found a number of differences in brain wiring in preterm babies, which in the past weren’t found until later in preterm children and adults.

“Most importantly…areas of the brain which are associated with memory, verbal comprehension and higher cognitive function – were found to be altered,” he says.

Professor Colditz says using an MRI used to pose too many risks, but now the MRI Neonatal incubator can conduct imaging of preterm babies’ brains to diagnose brain impairment much earlier, as it is specifically designed for babies.

“MRI brain wiring studies will underpin the development and testing of safe new interventions for our vulnerable pre-term babies, ensuring all babies are born with the best possible chance of leading a normal life,” he says.

The results from the study have been published in the PLOS ONE journal.