According to statistics from the World Health Organization, more than 1 in 10 babies are born prematurely—many, before 28 weeks of a full 40-week gestation. Newborn survival rates can be extremely low yet, thanks to modern medicine, an increasing number of premature infants are able to survive. This was the case for Hugo, born to a Swedish family at just 26 weeks of gestation. After his birth, ultrasounds revealed extensive hemorrhaging in Hugo’s brain—a prognosis typically leading to a high risk of cerebral palsy (a neurological condition that can cause both extensive physical and neurological problems). The newly adapted imaging solutions utilizing MRI technology enabled Hugo’s doctors to scan his brain and more accurately prognosticate that the likelihood of him suffering from cerebral palsy was in fact relatively low.
Neuroscientists are finding that in addition to cerebral palsy, premature children face higher risks of other neurological or behavioral deficits as a result of the pathways in their brains being less mature at the time of birth. Though in its infancy, this new radiological technology is offering promising new evidence that may help identify causes and potential solutions to these cognitive problems. “We need to gather a lot more data to understand what the best strategies are,” says Petra Hüppi, a neonatologist and developmental pediatrician at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, who is following brain development in children born prematurely to study their neurological issues.
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