A team of scientists in the UK have launched a six-year study designed to uncover the way in which the nerve connections in the brains of babies grow and develop while the child is in the womb and shortly after birth.
It is hoped that information gleaned from the project will cast some important light on how conditions such as autism develop and provide further insights into the way in which babies view the world.
The researchers – who are drawn from Guy's and St Thomas's Hospitals in London, Oxford University, Imperial College and King's College - are aiming to produce a map of babies' neural networks. The hope is that by developing a greater understanding of the way that the nerves are behaving in the three months before the child is delivered, scientists and doctors will gain a better understanding of how and why potentially serious problems occur.
Speaking about the project, research leader Professor David Edwards said: It is very important to be able to scan babies before they are born, because we can capture a period when an awful lot is changing inside the brain, and it is a time when a great many of the things that might be going wrong do seem to be going wrong."
The 'Developing Human Connectome Project" will use advanced MRI scanning techniques and will see over 1,500 babies studied before the full results are published.
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