Baby brain scans reduce later stroke risk
The Sector > Research > Brain scans for babies could reduce the risk of stroke in later life: UniSA study

Brain scans for babies could reduce the risk of stroke in later life: UniSA study

by Freya Lucas

May 28, 2024

Non-invasive brain scans for children under the age of one year could identify risk factors and reduce the potential for stroke later in life, researchers at the University of South Australia (UniSA) have found.


Despite overall improvements in medicine, brain aneurysm patterns have remained steady over time, meaning that variations in brain vessels could be easily detected early in life, the novel study found. 


Stroke is the second leading cause of death around the world. Every year 15 million people across the globe suffer from strokes, five million of those being fatal, with an additional five million people being left with permanent disabilities as a result of their stroke, placing a significant burden on families, the community, and the economy.


In Australia, stroke kills more women than breast cancer, and more men than prostate cancer. One Australian will experience a stroke every 19 minutes. More than 80 per cent of strokes can be prevented, and with the estimated cost of a single stroke being approximately $300,000 in Australia, identifying early signs is not only a key to prevention, but a step towards saving the economy millions.


More than 250 years worth of data was examined to systematically assess long-term trends of brain aneurysms, which can be a cause of stroke.


Dr Arjun Burlakoti, lead researcher, said that detecting variations in brain vessels in children could prevent stroke late in life.


“A cerebral (brain) aneurysm is a bulge in the artery to the brain. It’s caused by a weakness in an artery wall. And if a cerebral aneurysm bursts, it could cause a stroke,” Dr Burlakoti said.


“Cerebral aneurysms can develop at any age. And while the most common age for diagnosis is between 31-60 years, the incidence of childhood brain aneurysms is almost equivalent to that of adults. The incidence of childhood aneurysms can be comparable to that in adults because the childhood period of life is much shorter than adulthood,” he continued.


“Our study not only shows that aneurysms occur and rupture on their internal circumstances, but also that any brain vessel variations are likely to be present from birth.”


“What this means is that if we can identify variations in the brain arterial network in childhood, we can more actively monitor and check at-risk people throughout their life.”


The researchers recommend using a non-invasive, transcranial Doppler ultrasound to scan babies and children for brain vessel variations. This painless test uses sound waves to examine blood flow in and around the brain and detect variations in the blood vessels.


They say that the screening method could enable timely intervention and potentially prevent aneurysms and stroke-related complications.


“Screening variant arterial components in children, particularly those under two years old, could be a practical tool for screening variant brain arteries,” Dr Burlakoti said.


“This is a safe, non-invasive screening test that presents a path for families to regularly follow-up if any variations are detected.”


“If you could reduce the risk through a simple screening test, why wouldn’t you?”


Dr Burlakoti collaborated with Dr Jaliya Kumaratilake, Dr Jamie Taylor and Prof Maciej Henneberg at the University of Adelaide, Royal Adelaide Hospital and University of Zurich, respectively, in this study.


Access the findings here

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