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New technology monitors fetal brain activity

By Ryan Maass

WASHINGTON, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Washington have created a new approach for monitoring and imaging brain activity in individual fetuses.

The new method cuts down on image distortion as a result of movement, a common problem in functional MRI, or fMRI, imaging. By correcting the issue, scientists say they can map out a four-dimensional reconstruction of brain activity in moving objects, which can reveal in-depth details about fetal brain development and how it is affected by external stimuli.

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The technology provides the image using the default mode network, a collection of regions that are active when the brain is at rest, daydreaming, or not concentrating on a specific task. A report on the technique was published in the journal Human Brain Mapping.

"This is one of the first papers to take individual fetuses and look at the naturally developing default mode network in the human fetal brain," study author Vinay Pai, Ph.D. said in a press release. "It allows you to look at more natural developmental stages."

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In the study, researchers were able to create a four-dimensional video of fetal default mode network activity by using fMRI, which detects brain activity through blood flow. Typically, this detection is made difficult when the fetus moves or when the mother breathes. The team scanned 8 fetuses between 32 and 37 weeks into pregnancy. Researchers say this technique can provide insight into a baby's brain activity after birth.

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"What this is leading to is not just collecting data from individual babies but also understanding and building a four-dimensional map of brain activity and how it should emerge in a normal baby," senior author Colin Studholme said.

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