Newborn imaging facility will enable scientists to understand brain development and test new treatments for brain damage

Monday 25 February 2013

Nerve fibre tracts in a newborn baby's brain, coloured according to which direction the nerve run

A new state-of-the-art MRI imaging facility is being officially opened today (Monday 25 February), by Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies, at Evelina Children's Hospital.

The new Evelina Newborn Imaging Centre is part of the Centre for the Developing Brain at King’s College London, and is based in the Evelina Children’s Hospital, as part of King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre. The new imaging centre will improve care for the smallest and sickest babies, and allow research into normal brain development and its problems, as well as, crucially, the testing of new therapies aimed to treat brain damage.

The new MRI scanner is part of a dedicated new NIHR Clinical Research Facility within the neonatal intensive care unit. This location means that premature or ill babies – those most in need – have immediate access to the imaging facilities, and will allow researchers to study this most vulnerable group of infants.

Professor David Edwards, Director of the Centre for the Developing Brain at King’s and consultant neonatologist at Evelina Children’s Hospital, said: “I am delighted to welcome Dame Sally Davies and our keynote speaker Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, to the opening of the Evelina Newborn Imaging Centre today.”

“This new unit is world-leading, providing a Clinical Research Facility with a state-of-the-art MRI scanner in the safe environment of the neonatal intensive care unit. The most vulnerable babies will have access to these facilities, and it’s these infants that we need to know the most about in order to develop new treatments for brain damage. It’s a huge step forward and we are grateful to King’s College London, the Evelina Children’s Hospital, the Medical Research Council, and the National Institute for Health Research for supporting this important development in newborn medicine.”

“We will use this scanner to test new treatments and to understand brain development, for example in the Developing Human Connectome Project which will map brain connections as they form, even before birth while babies are still in their mother’s wombs.”

The Developing Human Connectome Project – a €15 million collaboration funded by the European Research Council and led by King’s College London with Imperial College London and the University of Oxford – will look at how regular brain development compares with brain development after premature birth and in babies with autism. As autism is passed on genetically in about a third of cases, the researchers can follow pregnancies where the child is more likely to have autism. The new scanner measures connectivity by monitoring the water flow running up and down nerve fibres, and the project will involve 1,500 babies.

See a video of a developing baby's brain at 24 weeks gestation.

The developing brain from 26 to 44 weeks after conception
The developing brain from 26 to 44 weeks after conception.

Last updated: February 2013

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