Neuromotor abnormalities (such as abnormal movement and gross motor abilities) are often caused by often unseen damage to the central nervous system. As a result, research suggests that neuromotor abnormalities can be indicators, or precursors, to certain psychiatric conditions. For example, low muscle tone in infancy can be an indicator of autism; abnormal movements and problems with muscle movements can be signs of schizophrenia.
That’s why early detection of these abnormalities can be vital, allowing for more timely therapeutic intervention. These early interventions often take advantage of neuroplasticity, making timing all the more important. The challenge, however, is finding ways to identify abnormalities early enough to make a difference.
A group of researchers have developed wireless, miniature, non-invasive sensors that can be worn by infants to create models of their movements. Capturing these movements with such detail may enable doctors to catch potential precursors early. The sensors, their capabilities, and a proof-of-concept study of the sensor are described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).
The sensors, which the research team referred to as Core Optimization for Regulation of Babies (CORB) sensors, work in a “time-coordinated fashion to record data from three-axis digital accelerometers and gyroscopes.” These sensors are significantly thinner, lighter, and smaller than similar, existing sensors. With the data collected from the sensors, researchers are able to structure “avatars” of the infant wearing a sensor. These avatars allow researchers to capture detailed recordings of a range of body movements. Sensors applied to the chest also allow researchers to gather a range of cardiological data, including a wearer’s vital signs.
In the proof-of-concept study, researchers tested their sensors on infants 1 week, 1 month, and 3 months of age, all of whom had low or elevated risks of neuromotor abnormalities (e.g., low birth rate, time spent in the neonatal unit). About ten sensors were required to develop an effective reconstruction of the infant. Researchers concluded from their brief study that while they were able to develop detailed, complex reconstructions of infant movement, differences among infants were not necessarily indicative of atypical movements that could signal certain psychiatric conditions.
More research is needed to develop baseline ranges of movement in infants, but the opportunity afforded by these sensors could make all the difference in early intervention.