Brain scans on premature babies reveal abnormalities that might explain why so many suffer mild cognitive difficulties as they grow up. The rate of premature births in the US has increased by more than 30 per cent over the past two decades due to multiple births following IVF treatment. The scans, performed on 113 babies born at between 22 and 29 weeks, show that the more premature a baby, the slower it develops nooks and crannies in the cortex, the outer surface of the brain vital for the most advanced mental capabilities. ‘When premature babies come to us at first, their brains are very smooth, like a coffee bean, but they end up looking like walnuts,’ says David Edwards of Imperial College London, head of the scanning team that scanned the babies. Scans taken at birth revealed that the more premature the baby is, the less ‘walnutty’ its brain is (PLoS Medicine, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030265). This is crucial, says Edwards, because it is the folds that give the brain the greater surface area it needs to sprout neural connections to improve mental capacity. As the infant brain matures, the growth of the surface area outpaces the overall increase […]

Read the Full Article