\A study published by the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) reveals that babies born between 32 to 35 weeks have the highest risk of developing infant brain injuries and developmental delays. This is most likely due to brain size and lack of brain function development.
Researchers Study Preterm Infant Brain Injuries
The new study focused on moderate to late term (MLPT) premature babies. MLPT babies are those born from 32 to 36 weeks. This group makes up the majority of preterm births over the past few decades. Even though most premature infants are born during this time frame, studies typically focus on births that occur before 32 week. This makes the RSNA study one of the first large-scale research projects on MLPT infants.
Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers studied 199 MLPT infants, along with 50 babies who were born after 38 weeks. The goal was to look for indications of why and how brain injuries occurred between the two groups.
The lead author of the study, Jennifer M. Walsh, states that babies born prior to 32 weeks may have reduced oxygen and blood flow. Both conditions can lead to brain injuries. However, it’s not as easy to determine why preterm infant brain injuries are more likely, including premature baby brain bleeds.
“In those very preterm babies, brain injury from bleeding into the brain or a lack of blood flow, oxygen or nutrition to the brain may explain some of the abnormal brain development that occurs. However, in some preterm babies, there may be no obvious explanation for why their brain development appears slow compared with babies born on time,” Dr. Walsh said.
Although both groups of infants had the same brain injury rates, the MLPT group had less myeline matter on one side of the brain. Also, the MLPT group exhibited half-grown gyral folding. As a result, researchers believe that infants born between 32 to 36 weeks may have stunted brain growth. This can lead to injuries and developmental delays.
“Given that brain growth is very rapid in the last one-third of pregnancy, it is perhaps not surprising that being born during this potentially vulnerable period may disrupt brain development. Brain growth is very complex, involving not only the neurons with which we think and do things, but also the other brain cells that support the neurons and are vital for normal brain function,” Dr. Walsh stated.
Researchers Hope to Continue Advancing Knowledge of Preterm Infant Brain Injuries
As research continues, experts hope to not only better understand MLPT injuries, but to establish the best forms of treatment. Treatment options may include early intervention and medication. Several treatment options may require testing before determining which provide the best outcomes.
The infants included in research will be followed and observed throughout childhood and adolescence. Periodic MRI procedures will help figure out the function and brain structure of the MLPT babies.
Researchers have made progress in identifying the preterm age group with higher risks of brain injuries. However, more research is needed to understand why preterm infant brain injuries are more common. After the cause is determined, improving the long-term outcomes for preterm babies will surely follow.