DOCTORS and scientists in Southampton are to pioneer a new MRI scan for babies with brain injuries.

Trials for new MRI techniques that could predict the long-term outlook for babies who suffer brain injuries at birth are being carried out in Southampton.

Currently, babies treated for hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE) – a type of brain damage that occurs when a baby does not receive enough oxygen or blood –are given a scan after five days.

This can show the severity of injury to the brain and is helpful in predicting issues such as cerebral palsy.

But more subtle problems, which might emerge in the future during schooling, are difficult to identify.

Initial treatment for HIE includes cooling the baby from 37 to 33.5 degrees for 72 hours, which is delivered on specialist neonatal intensive care units like the one in Southampton.

This improves survival rates and reduces the risk of cerebral palsy and severe developmental delay, but affected babies remain at risk of more subtle problems.

Now, clinicians and scientists, led by Dr Brigitte Vollmer, a consultant in neonatal neurology, at Southampton Children’s Hospital are adapting the MRI to measure blood flow and neural connections, known as the wiring of the brain.

The new MRI techniques will be added to the end of the standard scan, with babies asleep and unaware of the additional tests.

Dr Vollmer said: “We will investigate whether or not there is a correlation between the results of measurements made in sensitive brain regions and how children progress with their development.

“If that proves to be the case, we will be able to accurately predict the longer-term prognosis for these babies and intervene sooner to address issues that are likely to develop later on.”


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