News / Health

Brain Imaging Comes to Children in Africa

FILE - A highly-detailed image of the hippocampus region of the human brain.
FILE - A highly-detailed image of the hippocampus region of the human brain.
Jessica Berman
Brain imaging, once thought to be too expensive for widespread use in the developing world, may soon be available in low-income countries. The technology, which visualizes brain activity using infrared light, can identify the first signs of cognitive delays in newborns and young children who could be experiencing the effects of malnutrition.   

Functional near-infrared spectroscopy, or fNIRS, involves placing a tiny, soft helmet around an infant's head. An invisible beam of infrared light, the same as the light emitted by a TV remote control, is sent through the skull, helping to determine whether the baby is cognitively on track for his or her age.

fNIRS is considered safer than other imaging modalities, including MRI or PET scan.  It is also portable. The brain scanner can be loaded into a vehicle and driven from village to village by health care personnel.

Clare Elwell, a professor of Medical Physics at University College London, helped develop the relatively low-cost, non-invasive optical imaging technology.  

She says the device, which has been used for years to identify delays in British infants, measures the amount of oxygen in the blood to see how babies’ brains are developing.

“And as you use different regions of your brain, you direct oxygen to those different brain regions.  And so if we look at the change in the distribution of the oxygen in your brain, we can work out how active your brain is and what your brain is actually processing," said Elwell.

In a study field-testing the equipment in rural Gambia, Elwell says babies between four and eight months old were studied three times over the course of 15 months.  Researchers noted the infants' responses to different images and sounds.

“So if we present the babies with visual or auditory stimuli, then we expect certain brain regions to light up essentially.  We expect the oxygen to be diverted to certain brain regions.  And that tells us that those brain regions are mature and they are functioning normally.  And therefore that gives us a mark that that child’s brain is developing normally," she said.

The infants were shown pictures of objects and people, such as full-color, life-size images of adults who moved their eyes, and a video of an adult playing "peek-a-boo." The visual stimuli also included images of toys and a horse. The babies' auditory center was tested with the sound of human speech and familiar but non-human sounds such as rattles, running water and bells.  Their brain recognition patterns were compared to those of British children.

An article describing the results of the Gambian trials of fNIRS was published in Nature Scientific Reports.

“Nobody has ever done this in infants who are at risk in these resource-poor or low income settings.  And, of course, some of the infants we are studying in Africa are particularly at risk, for example, for malnutrition or childhood diseases that they might not encounter in other settings,' she said.

Clare Elwell says the goal is to identify those infants so they can receive proper nutrients or be treated for diseases that impair brain development.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More