In Health

Western Australia Minister for Health Roger Cook

Groundbreaking Study To Detect Brain Defects In Babies

Victor P Taffa

  • 6 local researchers share in more than $1.4 Million of child research funding
  • Parents to film babies with new smart phone app as part of brain function study
  • Study to pave the way for earlier detection of brain impairments such as cerebral palsy

Parents of 3,000 Perth newborns will be asked to film their resting infants as part of a new study that will determine whether general patterns of movement can be used to detect brain impairment in the first weeks of life.

“This project is an example of some of the highly innovative research that is underway in Western Australia. It is also a great example of the State Government and Telethon working together to help the sick kids of Western Australia.” Minister for Health Roger Cook said.


“It has the potential to enable children who have a brain impairment to get the best possible start in life by ensuring they are identified early and can receive the help they need when they need it most.”

Brain development is critical in the first two years of a child’s life but with no simple means of predicting brain impairment in infancy, many children miss getting vital help during this period when it can have the greatest impact.

McGowan Government research funding will help a Perth researcher discover whether patterns of movement in early infancy could hold the key to predicting brain function.

Child and Adolescent Health Service paediatrician Dr. Jane Valentine is heading up the project in which participating parents will be asked to film their infant’s movement patterns in two 3-minute recordings, taken at 2 and 12 weeks of age.

Babies will be filmed while in a settled but alert state. Parents will use a specially developed smart phone app to capture the footage and upload it for assessment by the research team.

Any baby found to have an abnormal pattern of movement at 12 weeks will be referred for further investigation and follow-up at the Perth Children’s Hospital’s early intervention clinic.

Participants will be recruited from the ORIGINS study, which is a collaboration between the Joondalup Health Campus and Telethon Kids Institute that examines how early life exposures affect a child’s growth, development and health.

Abnormal movement patterns are already used to predict cerebral palsy with 90 % accuracy, and emerging evidence suggests such movements may be similarly valuable in predicting cognitive impairment from as early as 3 months of age.

By confirming their value as a predictor of brain impairment, Dr. Valentine, Professor Elliott of Curtin University and their team could pave the way for a simple means of early detection.

This would take the form of a smart phone app that would be developed, with the aid of machine learning, to differentiate between normal and abnormal body movements. Such an app would be especially beneficial for families from rural and remote communities where it is much harder to access the specialist expertise needed to assess movement patterns.

Dr. Valentine is one of 6 local researchers who will share in more than $1.4 Million of State Government funding as part of the latest round of the Western Australia Child Research Fund (WACRF) program which is a collaboration of the Department of Health and Channel 7 Telethon Trust.

WACRF provides funding for Western Australia research activities that focus on the health and wellbeing of children and/or adolescents.

Dr. Valentine’s project has also received funding from the Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation.


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