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Title: Robot-assisted fMRI assessment of early brain development
Author: Allievi, Alessandro
ISNI:       0000 0004 5917 542X
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2014
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Preterm birth can interfere with the intra-uterine mechanisms driving cerebral development during the third trimester of gestation and often results in severe neuro-developmental impairments. Characterizing normal/abnormal patterns of early brain maturation could be fundamental in devising and guiding early therapeutic strategies aimed at improving clinical outcome by exploiting the enhanced early neuroplasticity. Over the last decade the morphology and structure of the developing human brain has been vastly characterized; however the concurrent maturation of brain function is still poorly understood. Task-dependent fMRI studies of the preterm brain can directly probe the emergence of fundamental neuroscientific notions and also provide clinicians with much needed early diagnostic and prognostic information. To date, task-fMRI studies of the preterm population have however been hampered by methodological challenges leading to inconsistent and contradictory results. In this thesis I present a modular and flexible system to provide clinicians and researchers with a simple and reliable solution to deliver computer-controlled stimulation patterns to preterm infants during task-fMRI experiments. The system is primarily aimed at studying the developing sensori-motor system as preterm infants are often affected by neuro-motor dysfunctions such as cerebral palsy. Wrist and ankle robotic stimulators were developed and firstly used to study the emerging somatosensory 'homunculus'. The wrist robotic stimulator was then used to characterize the development of the sensori-motor system throughout the mid-to-late preterm period. An instrumented pacifier system was also developed to explore the potential sensorimotor modulation of early sucking activity; however, despite its clear potential to be employed in future fMRI studies, results have not yet been obtained on preterm infants. Functional difficulties associated with prematurity are likely to extend to multi-sensory integration, and the olfactory system currently remains under-investigated despite its clear developmental importance. A custom olfactometer was developed and used to assess its early functionality.
Supervisor: Burdet, Etienne Sponsor: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available