Clare Elwell of University College London in the United Kingdom is using non-invasive optical brain imaging (near-infrared spectroscopy) to assess cognitive function in malnourished infants and children in low-resource settings over time. The technology is relatively low-cost and portable, and their approach could be used to determine the impact of malnutrition on the developing brain and guide nutrition-related interventions. In Phase I, they performed functional brain imaging in the presence of specific stimuli on 99 infants aged 0-2 years old in a rural setting in The Gambia over a 10-month period. This established proof-of-principle of their approach for measuring brain function in the field. In Phase II, they will expand the study to include 250 infants who will also be evaluated for additional physical, behavioral and cognitive parameters and analyzed every four months. This dataset will then be used to identify markers of disrupted cognitive development for early intervention, to provide insight into the role of malnutrition and other factors such as disease, and to help monitor treatments.
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