With the increasing prevalence of developmental disorders, the need to understand brain development has never been more critical. Brain development is strongly influenced by the skull, but this relationship has not been adequately studied due to limitations in imaging technology. Today, researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and the Children’s National Hospital are working together to develop techniques that will better understand this relationship. Their studies will be funded by the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research, which awarded them $ 3.5 million.
Natasha Leporé, PhD, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, studies methods of interpreting brain imaging data. “There are a lot of interactions between the skull and the brain,” she says, “and we want to better understand how they grow together.”
Currently, studies on the typical development of the brain and skull are limited. One reason is that imaging techniques are optimized to better visualize bone or soft tissue, but not both.
The brain, which is mostly made up of water, protein, and fat, does not show up well on computed tomography (CT) scans that use X-ray images. In addition, radiation exposure limits the amount of CT scan data available in children. On the other hand, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are great for brain images, but not optimal for the surrounding bone.
This puts researchers in a dilemma if they want to see the brain and skull together in one image. Fortunately, barriers to research like these are often overcome by collaboration.
Dr Leporé will work with Marius George Linguraru, DPhil, MA, MSc, Principal Investigator at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Innovation in Pediatric Surgery at the National Children’s Hospital.
Dr Linguraru is working on a set of tools for cranial phenotyping, using existing CT images of typically developing children. In their collaboration, Dr Leporé and Dr Linguraru will extend the tools to MRIs, allowing the team to simultaneously analyze the brain and the skull. The pair received a prize of $ 3.5 million over 5 years.
The tools we are developing together will help us better understand healthy growth in children. We will have the ability to analyze the development of cranial and cerebral joints from large datasets of medical images of pediatric patients. “
Marius George Linguraru, DPhil, MA, MSc, Principal Investigator
According to the team, this will be invaluable to the medical community.
“These tools will help clinicians better assess, diagnose and plan the treatment of infants with cranial malformations,” says Dr. Linguraru.
Collaborations like this allow expertise to be shared across specialties, ultimately benefiting children in need. Exceptional pediatric care is the result of teamwork; not only doctors, nurses and clinical staff, but also biomedical research, which provides clinicians with the information they depend on.
“We need to have a clear idea of what is expected in normal development,” explains Dr Leporé. “This allows physicians to detect and better understand differences in development.”