The parents of 3,000 Perth newborns will be asked to film their resting infants as part of a new study that will determine whether general patterns of movement can be used to detect brain impairment in the first weeks of life.
Brain development is critical in the first two years of a child’s life but with no simple means of predicting brain impairment in infancy, many children miss getting vital help during this period when it can have the greatest impact.
McGowan Government research funding will help a Perth researcher discover whether patterns of movement in early infancy could hold the key to predicting brain function.
Child and Adolescent Health Service paediatrician Dr Jane Valentine is heading up the project in which participating parents will be asked to film their infant’s movement patterns in two three-minute recordings, taken at two and 12 weeks of age.
The babies will be filmed while in a settled but alert state. Parents will use a specially developed smart phone app to capture the footage and upload it for assessment by the research team.
Any baby found to have an abnormal pattern of movement at 12 weeks will be referred for further investigation and follow-up at the Perth Children’s Hospital’s early intervention clinic.
Participants will be recruited from the ORIGINS study, which is a collaboration between the Joondalup Health Campus and Telethon Kids Institute that examines how early life exposures affect a child’s growth, development and health.
Abnormal movement patterns are already used to predict cerebral palsy with 90 per cent accuracy, and emerging evidence suggests such movements may be similarly valuable in predicting cognitive impairment from as early as three months of age.
By confirming their value as a predictor of brain impairment, Dr Valentine, Professor Elliott of Curtin University and their team could pave the way for a simple means of early detection.
This would take the form of a smart phone app that would be developed, with the aid of machine learning, to differentiate between normal and abnormal body movements. Such an app would be especially beneficial for families from rural and remote communities where it is much harder to access the specialist expertise needed to assess movement patterns.
Dr Valentine is one of six local researchers who will share in more than $1.4 million of State Government funding as part of the latest round of the WA Child Research Fund (WACRF) program which is a collaboration of the Department of Health and Channel 7 Telethon Trust.
The WACRF provides funding for WA research activities that focus on the health and wellbeing of children and/or adolescents.
Dr Valentine’s project has also received funding from the Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Visit the Department of Health’s website for the full list of WACRF recipients.
As stated by Health Minister Roger Cook:
“This project is an example of some of the highly innovative research that is underway in Western Australia. It is also a great example of the State Government and Telethon working together to help the sick kids of WA.
“It has the potential to enable children who have a brain impairment to get the best possible start in life by ensuring they are identified early and can receive the help they need when they need it most.
“This exciting innovation shows how new technology can be applied to give country families better and more affordable access to care for their babies.”