A new MRI software can predict brain development problems in newborn babies, including motor development disorders. 

In a study recently published in Nature, a team of researchers led by Nehal Parikh, DO, MS, a neonatologist and researcher at the Perinatal Institute at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, described how they used a diffuse white matter abnormality (DWMA) algorithm on MRI scans to determine if an infant will experience neurodevelopmental issues. Historically, these kinds of problems are difficult to predict considering that as many as 70 percent of premature babies show signs of white matter abnormalities, but only a portion of those grow up with cognitive or behavioral disorders. 

Between January 2015 and July 2018, the researchers performed brain scans on 110 preterm infants (born at 31 weeks) who were being cared for at four different neonatal intensive care units in the Columbus, Ohio area. They used the algorithm to detect and quantify DWMA on those scans and then calculated the volume of DWMA. Typically, children are not diagnosed with neurological disorders until they are between the ages of 2 and 5; however, this software enables physicians to see those markers much earlier. 

“While most researchers and doctors have concluded that DWMA is not pathologic, our novel studies are concluding otherwise,” said Parikh. “Most studies have diagnosed DWMA qualitatively based on visual readings from radiologists (yes/no, mild/moderate/severe). These subjective diagnoses have been unreliable and therefore have not been significantly associated with neurodevelopmental disorders.”