Abnormal brain development in premature newborns

Many children who have been born prematurely experience long-term cognitive, visual and motor deficits. A number of interrelated factors that commonly follow preterm birth are believed to contribute to neurodevelopmental impairment, including newborn illness and exposure to medications, abnormal brain development in the months following birth, and a characteristic type of brain injury known as white matter injury. Currently, there is little research regarding how white matter injury and abnormal brain development lead to impaired motor and cognitive function. Dr. Steven Miller is researching brain development and injury in premature babies to understand how such injuries occur and why specific brain regions are affected. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques, Dr. Miller is measuring brain development and white matter injury in premature newborns shortly after birth and then again when the newborns reach term-equivalent age. Subsequent tests measuring gross and fine motor skills, language and cognition will be conducted at 18 and 36 months of age to evaluate neurodevelopmental outcome. The results of this study will provide a better understanding of the factors impacting brain growth and injury in newborns, and lead to improvements in preventing or treating brain injury in this population. Dr. Miller’s research group also studies brain development and white matter injury in other groups of newborns at high risk of neurodevelopmental impairments, such as those with heart birth defects.