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Mega baby brain mapping project may find root cause of autism

As baby brains form in the womb something, somewhere goes wrong with their wiring leading to conditions like autism, attention deficit disorder and cerebral palsy. Now, as part of a €15m pan-European project (Developing Human Connectome) scientists at the Imperial College London are tracking down these aberrations by using thousands of high-resolution images of pre-natal babies shot in their wombs…from 22 weeks to the time they are born.

767This landmark project to map the wiring of the human brain from womb to birth has already thrown up thousands of images to help us understand how these disorders arise in the brain. The first set of stunning high-resolution images of 40 newborns scanned in their sleep show early brain anatomy including intricate neural wiring that ferries some of the earliest signals around the organ. In the coming months and years hundreds of thousands more images will be released including of 500 babies whose brains were scanned even as they were forming inside their mothers’ wombs.

The project seeks to create the world’s first 3D maps of the human brain through the gestational period of 20 to 44 weeks. The study includes several babies at high risk of disorders like autism. Scientists hope to be able to identify what goes wrong by comparing scans of these high-risk foetuses with those of others.

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