Study name: “Cross-Hemispheric Functional Connectivity in the Human Fetal Brain."
Detroit -- For the first time, Wayne State University researchers have shown brain connectivity in fetuses, a discovery that could lead to new ways to prevent and treat brain disorders such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia.
Moriah Thomason, a developmental neuroscientist, collaborated with other WSU researchers and used magnetic resonance imaging to capture real-time images that showed communication signals between more than 40 regions of the brain of fetuses in utero.
The study is being published in Wednesday's issue of Science Translational Medicine, a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
"This is a phenomenal advance for science," said Thomason, an assistant professor of Pediatrics at the WSU School of Medicine and principal investigator of the study. "We never, ever have been able to peer into the fetal brain and look at the development of functional networks. Scientific researchers will take this new method and apply it to a great number of questions, and that will help us all."
The results are the first from a MRI collaboration between WSU's medical school and the Perinatology Research Branch, a division of the National Institutes of Health based at WSU that focuses on problems in pregnancies. The PRB has been based at the university since 2002 and recently learned it will keep the government contract through 2023.
The research, which began in November, was funded partly by the NIH and WSU. It included 25 fetuses between 24 to 38 weeks of gestation.
The findings show that brain connections strengthened between the right and left side as fetuses developed and short-distance connections in the brain network are more strongly connected than long-range connections.
It is the first study of a larger project that seeks to define how functional brain networks form in fetuses and examine the environment of the developing child in utero, and factors in the mother's life. The project plans to track the fetuses once they become infants and throughout their life so researchers can compare their neurodevelopment to what was seen in the womb. The hope is to even study the children of these fetuses, if funding allows.