New mental maturity scan may spot developmental problems in kids

Posted By: Nairita Das
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Washington, Sep 10 (ANI): Scientists have shown that five minutes in a scanner can reveal a child's brain development from childhood to maturity and also highlight psychological and developmental disorders.

Washington University School of Medicine researchers said that their study proves that brain-imaging data can offer more extensive help in tracking aberrant brain development.

"Pediatricians regularly plot where their patients are in terms of height, weight and other measures, and then match these up to standardized curves that track typical developmental pathways," said senior author Bradley Schlaggar, a Washington University paediatric neurologist.

Schlaggar and his colleagues said a new way of looking at brain scanning data may be able to provide similar guidance for monitoring and treating of patients with psychiatric and developmental disorders.

Schlaggar said he has sent children with obvious, profound psychiatric conditions for MRI scans and received results marked "no abnormalities noted."

"That's typically looking at the data from a structural point of view-what's different about the shapes of various brain regions. But MRI also offers ways to analyze how different parts of the brain work together functionally," he said.

Schlaggar and colleagues used an approach to brain scanning called resting state functional connectivity. By correlating increases and decreases in blood flow to the various brain regions as subjects rest in the scanner, scientists determine which of these regions work together in brain networks.

For the new study, lead author Nico Dosenbach of St. Louis Children's Hospital adapted a technique for mathematical analysis called a support vector machine.

Dosenbach used data from five-minute MRI scans of 238 normal subjects ranging in age from 7 to 30.

The support vector machine analyzed approximately 13,000 functional brain connections and selected the best 200 produce a single index of the maturity of each subject.

The data allowed scientists to predict whether subjects were children or adults, and roughly formed a curving line that tracks the path of normal functional brain development.

The researchers suspect patients with brain disorders will appear out of alignment with this normal developmental curve.

"The beauty of this approach is that it lets you ask what's different in the way that children with autism, for example, are off the normal development curve versus the way children with attention-deficit disorder are off that curve," said Schlaggar.

"When a fraction of them later develop that disorder, you can go back and construct an analysis like this one that will help predict the characteristics of the next child at highest risk of developing the disorder," he said.

The findings appeared in Science. (ANI)

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