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MedUni Vienna: development of the brain network in the foetus now measurable for the first time in the womb

(Vienna, 24th November 2011) A team of researchers at the MedUni’s Clinical Department of Neuroradiology and Musculoskeletal Radiology has demonstrated for the first time ever that there are foetal brain developments that can be measured using functional magnetic resonance tomography in the womb. This means, says study leader Veronika Schöpf, that pathological changes to brain development will be detectable earlier than they are currently - and appropriate measures can be taken in good time. 

In the study, 16 foetuses between the 20th and 36th weeks of pregnancy were measured. Measurements were taken of the brain’s resting state networks. These networks remain in a state of readiness at rest and their activity increases after appropriate stimulation. The examinations are completely stress-free for the mothers and extend “normal” MRI scans by just a few minutes.

Functional defects are detected earlier
“We have been able to demonstrate, for the first time ever, that the resting state networks are formed in utero and that these can be imaged and measured using functional imaging,” explains Schöpf, who is part of the working group led by Daniela Prayer, Head of the Department of Neuroradiology and Musculoskeletal Radiology and head of the world's leading centre for pre-natal magnetic resonance imaging at the MedUni Vienna.

This discovery means that, in future, the developmental progress of brain activity in the foetus can be measured and other findings and prognoses made regarding possible malfunctioning processes. As a result, functional defects, such as of the optic nerves or motor system, can be detected while the foetus is still in the womb - an achievement that was previously impossible – so that parents can be offered more informed advice and counselling, for example.