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The Washington Research Foundation Fellowship

Averi Kitsch, Bioengineering, 2012-13 WRFF

Averi KitschI began working in Dr. Colin Studholme’s lab the summer after my freshman year and am proud to be part of a research group whose members have now become both my mentors and friends. The Studholme lab develops and applies new computational and mathematical techniques to study and map brain structure and function. I am currently exploring the relationship between early brain folding and later measures of cognitive, language, motor, and social-emotional developmental outcomes. My research is enriching my education with real life experiences and gives me the opportunity to present my own ideas and pathways.  It is ultimately the driving force behind reaching my goals of attending medical school and specializing in neonatology. The support provided by the Washington Research Foundation will help me continue my research and bring me one step closer to accomplishing my goals.

Mentor: Colin Studholme, Bioengineering & Pediatrics

Project Title: Early cortical biomarkers of childhood neurocognitive abilities after premature birth

Abstract: The frequency of premature birth has risen to almost one in every eight births. Although most preterm infants survive, there is growing evidence of adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes due to alterations in brain structure and function. However, the relationship between morphometric changes and final neurological outcome is unknown. This project aims to locate specific structural bio-markers of delayed or decreased brain folding that correlate with decreased neurocognitive abilities, by implementing different quantifications of gyrification. Gyrification, or curvature of the brain, has been identified as a promising structural marker for neurodevelopment. Curvature measurements are heavily dependent on size of the surface which drastically increases during this brief developmental time period; therefore our framework includes normalization and ratio based measures for improved consistency. Our image analysis framework proposes a novel atlas-based automatic tissue segmentation which utilizes age-specific tissue probability maps to serve as a source of spatial priors. We propose to adapt an atlas-based segmentation technique from fetal to preterm analysis with the addition of lobe segmentations that increase the precision of segmentation and registration. This will allow for brain surface extraction by tessellation of tissue maps to reconstruct topology correct representations of the inner and outer cortical surfaces, in which our unique vertex-wise gyrification analysis will be mapped onto a population-average surface by volumetric unbiased template-free groupwise registration. Statistical modeling will be performed for each vertex to detect local and regional patterns of folding and asymmetry. This project has the opportunity to directly relate these measures of early brain folding against later measures of developmental outcomes derived from the Bayley's Scale of Infant Development (BSID) with the goal of predicting neurocognitive outcomes. Achieving this goal will allow for the possibility of earlier clinical diagnostics permitting timely neurodevelopmental interventions.