Mapping the Effects of Malnutrition on Brain Development
Joseph Culver of Washington University in St Louis in the U.S. is developing a portable, optical neuroimaging technology (high-density diffuse optical tomography [HD-DOT]) to monitor the effects of malnutrition on brain development in young children in low-resource settings. During the first ten years of life, the brain develops many skills such as visual and language processing, and has unique nutritional requirements. If these are not met, there may be many short- and long-term consequences including neurodevelopmental delays and increased health risks later in life that could be prevented by dietary supplements. Magnetic resonance imaging is currently used to measure brain development, but it is rarely available in low-resource settings where malnutrition is common. In Phase I, they produced a portable, field-ready HD-DOT instrument that was adapted for preschool-age children and developed a neuroimaging protocol that uses movies to better engage them while mapping distinct cortical areas. This produced reliable, high-quality data when tested on 20 participants in Cali, Colombia. In Phase II, they will improve the sensitivity of their approach for quantifying brain development and adapt it for even younger children, from birth through four years of age, for use in rural and community clinics to ultimately enable prospective measurements of brain function from infancy through childhood in low-income regions.