Children who are born prematurely suffer more often from cognitive problems as they get older than children who are born around the due date. However not all premature children develop those problems. Through imaging, amongst others, the volume of the brain chambers and the chance of development problems can be better predicted. This is shown by PhD research of Kristin Keunen at the UMC Utrecht Brain Center Rudolf Magnus.

The brain is a complex system that is mostly formed during pregnancy. After a full-term pregnancy, the brain structure at birth does not differ much from that of adults. Premature birth can have a significant impact on this vulnerable process. The brain is often smaller, the maturation of the cerebral cortex often remains behind and the white matter is less developed. Prematurely born children often have problems with concentration, planning and social functioning, that is why the relationship between brain development and the development of cognitive skills in extremely premature children has been investigated.

The study was done in children born at 31 weeks of pregnancy or earlier. An MRI scan was performed around the due date and the cognitive functions of those children at the age of five years were examined. This shows a cohesion between a number of MRI measures and cognitive functioning at the age of five, namely maturity (or quality) of the white matter, white matter volumes and volumes of the brain chambers. Further research  can make it possible to predict, for example based on scans, which consequences the premature birth has for the development of the child. This provides opportunities to adjust and support earlier if problems are expected.

Keunen: "Until now, research was only done on the relationship between MRI measurements on the calculated date and the functioning of children at the age of 2 to 3 years. But problems with cognitive functions often only play an important role later on. That is why long-term follow-up is important and the predictable values ​​from this research are worth a lot."

For technical reasons, it wasn’t possible to examine large groups of patients within this study. Keunen: "More children can be examined in the follow-up study. In this way we can achieve  a predictive model. The MRI measures on the calculated date can also be of great value for intervention studies aimed at raising the development of vulnerable premature babies: you do not have to wait for years for outcomes. Furthermore, we would like to compare the brain development of premature children with those of healthy children and children who have not yet been born in the Youth Cohort. This way the brain development can be compared even better. "