Kimberley Whitehead, of University College London, has been awarded Brain Research UK funding to take forward her research into the natural repair mechanisms of the newborn brain.
When a baby suffers brain injury during birth, the consequences can be devastating. Affected babies are at high risk of life-long difficulties. A treatment that could repair brain damage would be life-changing.
Kimberley believes that the newborn brain's natural repair mechanisms could be boosted, potentially offering a gentle, low-cost intervention.
A brainwave is an electrical impulse in the brain - the transmission of a signal from one cell to the next. The size of brainwaves is an indication of how much the cells are communicating.
Straight after an injury, brainwaves are much flatter than usual. They then become much bigger over subsequent weeks, and it is thought that this is a natural repair mechanism, compensating for the reduced brainwaves immediately following the injury.
Kimberley will first establish whether the extra-large brainwaves are definitely a helpful thing for the injured brain. She will do this by monitoring the brainwaves of babies that have suffered a brain injury and following the subsequent development of these babies.
She will then explore techniques for stimulating even bigger brainwaves. In healthy infants, gentle touch and more sleep both make brainwaves bigger. She will establish whether this is also true for infants with injury. If so, there are straightforward adaptations that can be made to the babies' environments to facilitate this and promote brain repair.
Kimberley is working with Dr Lorenzo Fabrizi, a leading expert in the use of non-invasive brain monitoring techniques to understand brain development, and Consultant Neonatologists Dr Judith Meek and Professor Nikki Robertson from University College London Hospital.
There are hundreds of neurological conditions. To maximise our impact, we are focusing our research funding on three priority areas: brain tumours, brain and spinal cord injury, and headache and facial pain. These are areas where there is a high level of patient need that is not reflected in current levels of research investment.
Our funding for research in these areas is awarded under national, competitive schemes in which projects are selected through a process involving rigorous external peer review to identify the research that holds the greatest promise of achieving decisive results that will translate through to patient benefit.
Following careful consideration of Kimberley Whitehead's detailed research plans, the members of our Scientific Advisory Panel selected this project because it addresses an important question in one of our priority research areas and has high potential for impact, with scope to reduce disability in brain-injured babies via a gentle, low cost intervention.
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