Prematurely born neonate MRI (PreMRI)

The Prematurely born neonate MRI (PreMRI) study has been ongoing since 1998.  As with BAMRI, the study has evolved over time.  Initially, we were very concerned about transporting such small, delicate babies to the MRI scanner and back.  We designed special incubators and transporters to make sure the babies were kept warm and properly monitored during the trip and the MRI; we also had very skilled and careful nurses and doctors who came to the scanners with the babies, ready to act if any problem arose.  These incubators and transporters are now becoming commercially available and many more institutions are now doing neonatal scanning. 

When we first started scanning premature babies, we frequently (>50% of the time) found small abnormalities in the cerebrum.  This number has steadily gone down over time, as some of the abnormalities were linked to standard practices that could be changed; now we see cerebral abnormalities in less than 10%.  As the cerebral injuries were reduced, our scanners got better and, as a result, we started to see abnormalities in the cerebellum, the smaller, more posterior part of the brain.  Over the past decade or so, scientists have begun to realize that the cerebellum is very important in multiple functions of the brain.  As we looked closely at the cerebellum, we began to realize that it often had small lesions, as well, and that it was often too small compared to those of babies of the same post-conceptional age who were born at term.  Some of this reduced size was a result of treatments that were helping other parts of the baby; these have been altered.  We are currently searching for causes of the other small cerebellar lesions and trying to determine if they may be causing the developmental problems that some prematurely born babies manifest.  Our ongoing research is focusing on looking at the connections of the cerebellum and cerebrum and trying to determine whether these small cerebellar abnormalities have an effect on cerebral, as well as cerebellar, function.