3D mapping of babies' brains reveals folds as unique as fingerprints

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis have recently developed a new method to measure third trimester growth and folding patterns of babies' brains, according to a March 5 university news release. The folding patterns in a baby's brain, researchers specifically found, can be as unique to an individual as are fingerprints.  

“One of the things that’s really interesting about people’s brains is that they are so different, yet so similar,” said Philip Bayly, PhD, a professor of mechanical engineering at Washington University, according to the news release. “We all have the same components, but our brain folds are like fingerprints: Everyone has a different pattern. Understanding the mechanical process of folding—when it occurs—might be a way to detect problems for brain development down the road.” 

Researchers analyzed 3D magnetic resonance brain images from 30 premature babies scanned by Christopher Smyser, MD, and his pediatric neuroimaging team. The babies were scanned two to four times each during their 28th to 30th week in utero. A computer algorithm was then used to calculate precise maps of cortical expansion, and researchers also utilized a minimum energy approach to compare brain surfaces at differences times to analyze folding patterns.  

“When you use this minimum energy approach, you get rid of a lot of noise in the analysis, and what emerged were these subtle patterns of growth that were previously hidden in the data," Bayly said. "Not only do we have a better picture of these developmental processes in general, but doctors should hopefully be able to assess individual patients, take a look at their pattern of brain development and figure out how it’s tracking.”