Dr. Sandra Witelson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University and chief investigator on the interdisciplinary project at Hamilton Health Sciences, said that an ultrasound study of the brains of babies born around 26 weeks gestation showed that certain aspects of brain development were very compromised compared to infants in utero.
"These findings indicate that the normal early maturation of the brain may be compromised when it takes place outside of the womb," said Witelson, holder of the Albert Einstein/Irving Zucker Chair in Neuroscience at McMaster. "We found that in very premature babies, a part of the brain doesn't show normal growth after birth, and in fact some parts of the brain didn't change at all from the day the babies were born until they reached what would have been a full-term birth date."
These results have clinical relevance in how premature babies are cared for, as they indicate that the early brain may be compromised by being subjected to complex stimulation too early.
The results are based on a study of 80 premature boys and girls whose birth weight was less than 1,000 grams (about 2.2 pounds), and who were born just 26 weeks into a normal 40-week pregnancy. Clinical ultrasounds of the premature infants' brains were done at birth and again when they were discharged from hospital, generally around 36 weeks since conception.
They were compared to the brain ultrasounds taken in utero at about 26 weeks gestation and at birth in other studies to a matched group of 38 full-term infants.
Measurements taken from the ultrasounds showed that certain frontal portions of the brains of the premature babies were