The researchers also found that preterm babies with significant injury to the brain’s white matter were more likely to have slower motor development as toddlers. Brain injuries in preterm babies are most often linked to lack of brain blood flow or to inflammation.
“These data suggest that babies born preterm have the potential to do just as well as infants born full-term,” says Dr. Anne Synnes, a co-author with the study. Dr. Synnes is a clinical investigator at the Child & Family Research Institute (CFRI), a neonatologist at BC Children’s Hospital, and a clinical associate professor in the Division of Neonatology in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of British Columbia (UBC). “This opens the window to learn more about how to improve the day to day care of these babies to support their optimal brain development.”
The research is published in the December 10, 2013 issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
“Our findings point to preterm infant brain health as a dynamic process that evolves over the weeks of neonatal intensive care,” says Dr. Steven Miller, the study’s principal investigator. Dr. Miller was a neurologist at BC Children’s Hospital and a CFRI clinician scientist at the time the newborns were studied. He is currently the head of Neurology at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), professor of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto, the Bloorview Children’s Hospital Chair in Paediatric Neuroscience, and a UBC affiliate professor of Pediatrics. “Earlier studies by our group and others have identified common conditions such as postnatal infection, lung disease and pain as potential risk factors that could be addressed to support healthier brain development in preterm babies,” he says.
“Because brain development is a dynamic process that evolves over time, these findings mean there is an opportunity to improve infant brain health,” says Dr. Vann Chau, the study’s first author, a neurologist at SickKids and CFRI clinical investigator. “This view is different from the previous assumption that once the injury is done, it is too late.”
The study involved 154 preterm babies born after 24-32 weeks of pregnancy and cared for at BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre in Vancouver between April 2006 and August 2010. The babies had an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan once they were clinically stable within the first few weeks of life, and then again at what would have been their due dates. Researchers at the adjoining BC Children’s looked at how the babies’ brain microstructure and metabolism had matured over that time period. The researchers then assessed the children’s cognition, language and motor skills at 18 months of age.
The study is co-led by Dr. Ruth Grunau, CFRI senior scientist and professor, Division of Neonatology, UBC Department of Pediatrics. The research team also includes Dr. Kenneth Poskitt and Dr. Rollin Brant of CFRI, BC Children’s and UBC. This study is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, the Canada Research Chairs Program, CFRI and BC Children’s Hospital Foundation.
CFRI conducts discovery, translational and clinical research to benefit the health of children and their families. CFRI is supported by BC Children’s Hospital Foundation and works in close partnership with the University of British Columbia, BC Children’s Hospital, and BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre (agencies of the Provincial Health Services Authority). For more information, visit www.cfri.ca
BC Children’s Hospital, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), is British Columbia’s only pediatric hospital and home to many specialized pediatric services available nowhere else in the province, including BC’s trauma centre for children, pediatric intensive care, kidney and bone marrow transplants, open heart surgery, neurosurgery and cancer treatment. Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children is the provincial facility that offers specialized child development and rehabilitation services to children and youth. For more information, please visit www.bcchildrens.ca
PHSA plans, manages and evaluates selected specialty and province-wide health care services across BC, working with the five geographic health authorities to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit www.phsa.ca
UBC is one of North America’s largest public research and teaching institutions, and one of only two Canadian institutions consistently ranked among the world’s 22 best universities. Surrounded by the beauty of the Canadian West, it is a place that inspires bold, new ways of thinking that have helped make it a national leader in areas as diverse as community service learning, sustainability and research commercialization. UBC offers more than 56,000 students a range of innovative programs and attracts $550 million per year in research funding from government, non-profit organizations and industry through over 8,000 projects and grants. For more information, please visit www.ubc.ca
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost pediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally. Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. SickKids is proud of its vision of Healthier Children. A Better World.™ For more information, visit www.sickkids.ca
Toronto: Caitlin McNamee-Lamb, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)
416-813-7654, ext. 201436 firstname.lastname@example.org
Vancouver: Jennifer Kohm, Child & Family Research Institute