-- Robert Preidt
TUESDAY, Dec. 17, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- A potential new way
to identify premature infants at high risk for delays in motor
skills development may have been discovered by researchers.
The researchers conducted brain scans on 43 infants in the
United Kingdom who were born at less than 32 weeks' gestation and
admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The scans
focused on the brain's white matter, which is especially fragile in
newborns and at risk for injury. They also conducted tests that
measured certain brain chemical levels.
When 40 of the infants were evaluated a year later, 15 had signs
of motor problems, according to the study published online Dec. 17
in the journal
Radiology. Motor skills are typically described as the
precise movement of muscles or groups of muscles to perform a
The researchers determined that ratios of particular brain
chemicals at birth can help predict motor-skill problems.
Specifically, increased choline/creatine and decreased
N-acetylaspartate/choline were 70 percent accurate in predicting
which babies would have motor development delays one year
Being able to predict the risk of neurodevelopmental problems in
premature babies would help identify those who should receive
intensive treatment, and also prove useful in assessing the
effectiveness of those therapies, according to study author Giles
Kendall of University College London.
Physical therapy is available but very expensive, and the vast
majority of premature babies don't need it, he said. "Our hope is
to find a robust biomarker that we can use as an outcome measure so
that we don't have to wait five or six years to see if an
intervention has worked," he said in a journal news release.
Severe disability associated with premature birth has decreased
over the past two decades as a result of improved care in NICUs.
But many premature infants still have subtle problems that can be
difficult to detect, Kendall noted.
"There's a general shift away from simply ensuring the survival of these infants to how to give them the best quality of life. Our research is part of an effort to improve the outcomes for prematurely born infants and to identify earlier which babies are at greater risk," he said.
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