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

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid