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Changing baby brain activity could help rehabilitate brain injury

Positive news for anyone involved in dealing with catastrophic brain injuries to babies during birth in that researchers at King's College, London have for the first time identified the brain activity in newborns when they are learning to associate between different sensory experiences. And now that activity has been identified, it seems it can be altered, a breakthrough that could be particularly relevant to babies with cerebral palsy where certain areas of the brain do not develop properly.

Using advanced MRI scanning and robotics, the scientists at the renowned public research university found that a baby's brain activity can be changed through these associations, highlighting the possibility of rehabilitating babies with injured brains and promoting the development of life-long skills such as speech, language and movement.

It has long been recognised that learning associations are a vital part of a baby's development, but little has previously been understood about the activity inside the brain responsible for learning these associations.

When babies are born, they have a new sensory experience around them, completely different to their experience inside the womb.

They must quickly start to understand their environment and the relationships between different things happening, something that is even more important for babies with injuries to their brain.

This current study focused on how brain responses become associated with particular stimuli, in this case, sound.

It found that when a baby is learning, it is activating many different parts of the brain and beginning to incorporate the 'wider network' inside the brain, important for processing activity.

During the study, 24 babies were played the sound of a jingling bell for six seconds, coupled with gentle movement created by a 3D printed robot strapped to their right hand.

The resulting brain activity was measured using MRI. After 20 minutes of learning an association between the two types of stimuli, the babies then just heard the sound on its own and the resulting brain activity was compared to that before the period of learning.

If a baby was not capable of processing movement, or movement is not associated with normal activity inside the brain, often the case for a baby with cerebral palsy, doctors may be able to induce that activity by creating an association with sound, and then using the sound simulation to try to amplify and rehabilitate movement.

While we are investigating negligence claims on behalf of children with cerebral palsy, the child's frustration at their limitations is often very evident. This often presents as difficult, even violent, behaviour directed at the people involved in their care and rehabilitation and can limit the child's attendance at school.

Any intervention at a very young age could mean that rehabilitation and development begin before certain limitations take hold. This could be life-changing for the children and families affected by severe brain injury and cerebral palsy.

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