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Vienna scientists observe development of brain pathways even in the womb

(Vienna, 4th March 2013) The human brain has many neural pathways that connect the individual regions of the brain with each other. In a world first, these pathways have now been visualised in living foetuses by the MedUni Vienna – a major step forward for early diagnosis.

Until now, ultrasound screening has been unable to conclusively determine whether an unborn baby’s neural pathways are developing correctly during pregnancy. Now, malformations, destructions and deviations of these pathways can be explored with clear findings thanks to magnetic resonance imaging. These are the results of an ongoing study at the MedUni Vienna, carried out in collaboration with the Clinical Department of Neuroradiology and Musculoskeletal Radiology, the Centre for Anatomy and Cell Biology and the Institute of Neurology.

According to Daniela Prayer, Head of the Clinical Department of Neuroradiology and Musculoskeletal Radiology and the leader of the study, two things represented major challenges: on the one hand there was the small size of the foetuses investigated between the 20th and 37th weeks of pregnancy, and on the other was their incessant urge to move. “The first step, therefore, was to adapt the existing methods of magnetic resonance imaging to the sizes of the foetal structures. The entire procedure also had to be performed very quickly, due to the foetuses' frequent movements, since otherwise the images would be unusable.”

Better advice for affected parents
The newly developed technique of magnetic resonance imaging is important because missing or under-developed neural pathways can be responsible for severe cognitive impairments. Doctors can now offer more specific advice in such cases and predict how affected children will develop later in life. The parents of these children can then better prepare themselves for the situations to be expected after the birth.

Study results published in “Brain”
Undeveloped or incorrectly developed neural pathways are a relatively common deformity of the brain, affecting up to 500 in 100,000 children. Often, there is no connection between the right and left sides of the brain, for example. The results of this interdisciplinary study have just been published in the current edition of the highly respected international journal “Brain”.

Service: Brain
Gregor Kasprian, Peter C. Brugger, Veronika Schöpf, Christian Mitter, Michael Weber, Johannes A. Hainfellner and Daniela Prayer: „Assessing prenatal white matter connectivity in commissural agenesis“, Brain 2013: 136; 168–179, doi:10.1093/brain/aws332

Date for the diary: Congress of the European Society of Radiology (ECR) in Vienna
From 7th to 11th March 2013, Vienna (Austria Center Vienna) will be host to the ECR’s 25th European Congress. Further information: www.myESR.org