Using fMRI technology and vector multivariate analysis, Damien Fair, PA-C, PhD, post-doctoral research scientist in the OHSU Department of Psychiatry and lead authors, Nico Dosenbach, MD, PhD, and Bradley Schlaggar, MD, PhD, at Washington University in St. Louis are now able to accurately predict a young person’s age by studying their brain scans. The research, which will likely have several clinical applications including assessment and diagnosis, is titled “Prediction of Individual Brain Maturity Using fMRI,” and is published in the Sept. 10 edition of Science.
As summarized in the paper introduction, there is broad scientific consensus that fMRI has the potential to aid in the diagnosis of developmental delays and neuropsychiatric disorders, especially for conditions that lack structural brain abnormalities. However, an enduring challenge in capturing this potential has been defining the types of scans needed for predictive value. In this case, the authors used a new procedure called resting-state functional connectivity MRI.
The research had two major objectives:
“The first aim was to develop an approach for making accurate predictions about individuals on the basis of single fMRI scans. The second aim, building on the first, was to further illuminate typical brain development, a prerequisite for studying developmental disorders and pediatric-onset neuropsychiatric diseases,” wrote the Dr. Dosenbach.
The research is premised on original work by Dr. Fair that showed when we are young, brain activity is more localized in the brain. However, as we develop, these connections in the brain become more complex and distributed. “In this work we found that we could create a form of a brain development yardstick, or what Dr. Dosenbach, the primary author of the paper, calls a maturation index,” said Dr.Fair. “Using this yardstick of sorts, we learned that you could effectively determine the subjects level of brain development.”
The scientists hope that, with further investigation, the technology will assist in comparing brain function across populations to assess childhood development during the maturation process. For instance, a percentile scale could be developed to gauge brain development much in the way weight and height percentiles are calculated for growing children. Such a tool could highlight individual needs and lead to specific ways of helping individual children. Currently Dr. Fair and his collaborators are working to see if this form of analysis may also play a key role in diagnosing childhood developmental delay, ADHD, and autism.
“In many cases it can be very hard to diagnose and properly characterize these problems, which is why we are so encouraged by these findings,” added Dr. Fair.
The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, John Merck Scholars Fund, Burroughs-Wellcome Fund, Dana Foundation, Ogle Family Fund, McDonnell Center, Simons Foundation, American Hearing Research Foundation, and the Diabetes Research Center at Washington University.
Pictured: Dr. Damien Fair