Medical imaging & patient care

Scanning cerebral damage in malnourished children

For years, behavioural tests have been used to chart brain development in children. However, current tests may not be fit for purpose in poorer countries. A new portable brain scanning technique is now being used in The Gambia to more accurately gauge children’s neural development. Abi Millar finds out more. 

During the first few years of life, a child’s brain undergoes an extraordinary process of development. Forming more than a million new neural connections every second, the brain is more flexible and sensitive at this point of life than it’ll ever be again.

For better or worse, this extreme plasticity means the child’s environment is critical. A child growing up in a healthy, safe environment is far more likely to hit the expected developmental milestones. Conversely, if a child is exposed to chronic stress, that will shape the structure and subsequent function of the brain.

Unfortunately, early-life stress is a broad category, comprising everything from maltreatment and neglect to poverty. As a growing body of research has demonstrated, growing up poor can profoundly affect a person’s cognitive development. It is even associated with less complexity in certain regions of the brain.

However, much remains unknown, particularly when it comes to children living in lower-income countries. As Clare Elwell, a professor of medical physics at University College London, explains, there are major gaps in the scientific literature.

Read the rest of the article at Medical Technology

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