Brain scans useful for predicting mental health problems in children

Brain scans can be useful in many areas, but could they also be useful for those problems that are more related to the psychological or psychiatric profile of the subject, basically mental health problems?

A team of researchers led by Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli, professor of psychology and director of the Biomedical Imaging Center at Northeastern University in Boston, believes that this technique could be very useful especially to identify those children who are most at risk of diseases such as depression, attention problems and anxiety, even predicting the peaks or the level of maturity of these same diseases before they occur.

As Whitfield-Gabrieli herself explains, it seems that today there is a sort of “epidemic” of adolescent anxiety and depression and finding an initial marker to predict their development could be essential. The researcher performed a study after conducting experiments on a relatively small sample of children (not even 100 subjects) who had no known mental health problems.

The researcher, performing brain scans of subjects during a four-year longitudinal study, found certain connections in particular areas of the brain at the age of seven, ‘distinct functional connectivity patterns’, as reported in the study abstract, which she believes can help predict mental health problems developing years later.

“Identifying these biomarkers at such a young age could promote early interventions – exercise, awareness, cognitive-behavioural therapy – that could mitigate symptoms and perhaps even prevent the progression of psychiatric illness,” Whitfield-Gabrieli herself says in a press release released by HealthDay and related to the study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Natalie Ward

I am a graduate student at Wheaton College with a passion for writing and reporting on news that I feel is important. During my academic life, I have always strived to continue educating myself on a wide range of scientific areas and stay on top of the most interesting research. I joined in July of 2019 as a volunteer contributor, and have since contributed many pieces that have been well received. I am an avid reader of Nature Communications and Scientific American.

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Natalie Ward