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Brain Imaging Comes to Children in Poor Countries



For VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report.

Brain imaging was once thought to be too costly and difficult for widespread use in the developing world. But the technology soon may be available in poor countries. Brain imaging creates pictures of brain activity. It uses infrared light - similar to the light produced by a television remote control. Brain imaging can identify the first signs of learning and development delays in newborns and young children. Experts know that malnutrition, or a lack of healthful food, can be linked to such problems. The technology has a long name - functional near-infrared spectroscopy, or f-N-I-R-S. It uses special light to provide images of the brain. Experts say f-N-I-R-S is safer than other imaging methods. And f-N-I-R-S is easy to transport. The equipment can be loaded into a vehicle and driven from village to village.

Clare Elwell is a professor of medical physics at University College London. She helped develop the technology. She says the device measures oxygen in the blood to learn how babies' brains are developing. She says it can show how much information the brain is processing and where. Ms. Elwell led an f-N-I-R-S study in rural Gambia involving babies between four and eight months old. They were examined three times over 15 months. Researchers noted the babies' reactions of to different images and sounds. Then the results were compared to those of British children. Ms. Elwell says the research provided more data on the links between malnutrition and brain development. She says the goal is to identify babies who need better diets to avoid harm to brain development.

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