A team of researchers believes abnormal brain development and mental illness can be detected early with brain scans. Periodic brain scans, a concept similar to a pediatric growth chart, can quickly alert physicians to any signs of impending problems. The findings are in a paper that was just published in the journal Cortex.
Researchers from Binghamton University used electroencephalography (EEG) to study the resting brain states of 450 children aged 7 to 11 years. As the children aged, their EEG signals became significantly more complex, especially in the anterior cortical region. This region is heavily involved in functions such as impulse control, decision-making, and emotional responses. The largest changes occurred between ages 7 and 8. By recording a baseline “normative state” for brain development, the team believes that they could identify children with abnormal brain development.
The team hopes to conduct further research to gain insight into normal developmental milestones. Brain growth could be tracked in a chart the same way height and weight are currently recorded by pediatricians. The research team feels that pediatric neurological research is lagging behind other scientific fields. There is currently no benchmark data to compare a child’s developing brain to, making it difficult to detect brain disorders and abnormalities. Specifically, the team believes that brain scans could be combined with other data such as family income, the child’s environment, and other factors that may put a child at risk of developing a mental illness. By catching abnormalities when the child is still young, there can be a focus on prevention and, if needed, early treatment.
The team is now analyzing how influencing factors such as environment and genetics affect brain development. They hope to eventually create standardized brain growth charts to act as a comparison when children visit their pediatrician. The team believes issues like improper development, anxiety, depression, and other issues could be caught before symptoms begin by using this data.
Vladimir Miskovic et al. Charting moment-to-moment brain signal variability from early to late childhood. Cortex (2016).