Early nutrition and brain development
Infants in West Kiang start life with a head circumference below international norms, and show rapid faltering to 24 months of age (Figure). Recent advances in methods to assess brain development have created an opportunity to directly test the biological consequences of these early growth deficits. Traditionally, researchers have used subjective measures to assess cognitive development in infancy, such as the Bayley Scales of Infant Development. Modern, objective imaging technologies, often developed for use in intensive care units for assessment of potential brain damage, are now being adapted for research purposes. These tools create ‘functional’ maps of brain activity based on changes in brain metabolism, blood flow, or electrical activity. With the detailed data and birth cohorts already established and resources available to apply advanced technologies in a rural African setting, ING are in a strong position to interrogate these relationships and also to establish cohorts for long-term follow up. Through collaborations with experts in brain imaging, we are planning a series of studies on optimising head growth for brain development. Specifically, we aim to investigate: i) the timing of critical periods for early-life insults in head circumference and brain development and ii) the possible reversibility of these effects through nutritional intervention.
Mean (95% CI) HC for age z-scores. (males – blue; step curves show the mean at each time point). Data from the ENID Trial.
Selected ongoing studies: