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

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs