Safeguarding fetal brain health in pregnancies complicated by CHD

August 1, 2018, Children's National Medical Center

Yao Wu, a research postdoctoral fellow in the Developing Brain Research Laboratory at Children's National Health System, has received a Thrasher Research Fund early career award to expand knowledge about regions of the fetal brain that are vulnerable to injury from congenital heart disease (CHD) during pregnancy.

CHD, the most common birth defect, can have lasting effects, including overall health issues; difficulty achieving milestones such as crawling, walking or running; and missed days at daycare or school, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Brain injury is a major complication for infants born with CHD. Catherine Limperopoulos, Ph.D., director of Children's imaging lab, was the first to provide in vivo evidence that fetal brain growth and metabolism in the third trimester of pregnancy is impaired within the womb.

"It remains unclear which specific regions of the fetal brain are more vulnerable to these insults in utero," Limperopoulos says. "We first need to identify early brain abnormalities attributed to CHD and understand their impact on infants' later behavioral and cognitive in order to better counsel parents and effectively intervene during the prenatal period to safeguard brain health."

During the last few weeks of , certain regions of the fetal brain experience exponential growth but also are more vulnerable to injury during that high-growth period. The grant, $26,749 over two years, will underwrite "Brain Development in Fetuses With Congenital Heart Disease," research that enables Wu to utilize quantitative, non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare fetal brain development in pregnancies complicated by CHD with brain development in healthy fetuses of the same gestational age.

Wu will leverage quantitative, in vivo 3-D volumetric MRI to compare overall fetal and neonatal brain growth as well as growth in key regions including cortical grey matter, white matter, deep grey matter, lateral ventricles, external cerebrospinal fluid, cerebellum, brain stem, amygdala and the hippocampus.

The research is an offshoot of a prospective study funded by the National Institutes of Health that uses advanced imaging techniques to record brain growth in 50 fetuses in pregnancies complicated by CHD who need open heart surgery and 50 healthy fetuses. MRI studies are conducted during the second trimester (24 to 28 weeks gestational age), third trimester (33 to 37 weeks ) and shortly after birth but before surgery. In addition, fetal and neonatal MRI measurements will be correlated with validated scales that measure infants' and toddlers' overall development, behavior and social/emotional maturity.

"I am humbled to be selected for this prestigious award," Wu says. "The findings from our ongoing work could be instrumental in identifying strategies for clinicians and care teams managing high-risk pregnancies to optimize development and infants' overall quality of life."

Explore further: Advanced MRI can detect placental perfusion abnormalities in pregnancies complicated by fetal CHD

Related Stories

Advanced MRI can detect placental perfusion abnormalities in pregnancies complicated by fetal CHD

January 5, 2018
In pregnancies complicated by fetal congenital heart disease (CHD), global placental perfusion was significantly decreased and regional variation of placental perfusion significantly increased as pregnancies progressed, findings ...

Which targeted nutritional approaches can bolster micro-preemies' brain development?

May 5, 2018
The volume of carbohydrates, proteins, lipids and calories consumed by very vulnerable preemies significantly contributes to increased brain volume and white matter development, however additional research is needed to determine ...

Every day in the womb boosts babies' brain development: study

October 31, 2016
(HealthDay)—Carrying a baby as close to full term as possible is better for the baby's brain development, a new study suggests.

Blood flow altered in brains of preterm newborns vs. full-term infants

December 4, 2017
Cerebral blood flow (CBF) of key regions of newborns' brains is altered in very premature infants and may provide an early warning sign of disturbed brain maturation well before such injury is visible on conventional imaging, ...

Brain damage caused by Zika exposure in utero can be detected by both fetal MRI and ultrasound

October 4, 2017
Clinicians managing Zika-affected pregnancies should use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in addition to standard ultrasound (US) because the more detailed MRI images can reveal more extensive areas of damage to the developing ...

Novel framework powered by 3-D MRI accurately predicts pregnancies complicated by FGR

July 31, 2017
During the millions of pregnancies that occur in the United States every year, expectant moms learn oodles about their developing fetuses over months of gestation. But the placenta, a vital and temporary organ that shelters ...

Recommended for you

Breastfeeding protects infants from antibiotic-resistant bacteria

October 18, 2018
A recent study completed at the University of Helsinki investigated the amount and quality of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in breast milk and gut of mother-infant pairs. The findings have been published in the journal Nature ...

Inflammation in the womb may explain why some babies are more prone to sepsis after birth

October 9, 2018
Each year 15 million infants are born preterm and face high risks of short- and long-term complications, including sepsis, severe inflammation of the gut, and neurodevelopmental disorders. A new report in the American Journal ...

Dummies not to blame for common speech disorder in kids

October 9, 2018
New University of Sydney research shows bottles, dummies, and thumb sucking in the early years of life do not cause or worsen phonological impairment, the most common type of speech disorder in children.

'Genes are not destiny' when it comes to weight

October 9, 2018
A healthy home environment could help offset children's genetic susceptibilities to obesity, according to new research led by UCL.

Old drug could have new use helping sick premature babies

October 8, 2018
Researchers from The University of Western Australia, King Edward Memorial Hospital and Curtin University are investigating whether an old drug could be used to help very sick premature babies.

Insufficient sleep associated with risky behavior in teens

October 1, 2018
Adolescents require 8-10 hours of sleep at night for optimal health, according to sleep experts, yet more than 70 percent of high school students get less than that. Previous studies have demonstrated that insufficient sleep ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.