Cerebral palsy: searching for a better way to predict children’s future needs and abilities | Children's Charity

Cerebral palsy: searching for a better way to predict children’s future needs and abilities

This research was completed on 30 September 2017

Published on 15 February 2014

Around 1,800 babies are diagnosed with cerebral palsy every year in the UK. 1 They will experience lifelong difficulties with movement and coordination. The severity of these difficulties varies greatly from one child to another, and parents are often keen to know exactly how their own baby’s life will be affected – whether they’ll be able to walk and live independently during adulthood, for example. Unfortunately, making predictions like this is difficult at present, leaving many with uncertainty. Dr Chris Clark, of University College London’s Institute of Child Health, is investigating whether new brain scans might one day provide answers.

How are children’s lives affected now?

Estimates suggest around one in every 400 children in the UK has cerebral palsy.1 Children are normally quite young – less than 18 months old – when their condition is diagnosed.

“When parents find out their baby has cerebral palsy, it’s common for them to ask about the future,” says Dr Clark. “Parents often want to know how severe their child’s movement problems will be – whether their child is likely to need a wheelchair, for example, or master everyday activities like eating and getting dressed. It’s possible to anticipate these things to a degree, but accurately predicting how a child will be affected remains difficult.”

In fact, babies with cerebral palsy can have very different futures, as Dr Clark explains: “Some children with cerebral palsy can run and have only minimal restrictions to their movement, whereas others can be profoundly disabled, with other problems too such as epilepsy or learning difficulties, meaning they need life-long care.”

How could this research help?

Dr Clark and his team are investigating whether new MRI brain scans might benefit children with cerebral palsy and their families.

“The movement problems that children with cerebral palsy experience result from damage to the brain,” explains Dr Clark. “We are using new MRI scans developed by the team to find out more about this damage and how it relates to children’s movement difficulties.”

“More research will be needed, but we hope that, one day, doctors will be able to use these new brain scans to help them predict what sort of movement difficulties children with cerebral palsy are likely to experience in the future,” continues Dr Clark. “This could help parents feel more prepared and make it easier to plan children’s care – from the support of physiotherapists, speech therapists and so on, to adaptations in the home – so all children with cerebral palsy can have the best possible quality of life.”

Project LeaderDr C A Clark, BSc MSc PhD
Project team
  • Dr B Vollmer Dr med PhD
  • Dr N Wimalasundera MBBS MSc
  • Dr L J Carr MD MbChb FRCP FRCPCH
  • Dr J D Clayden PhD MSc MA
  • Dr D E Saunders MD FRCR
LocationImaging and Biophysics Unit, Institute of Child Health, University College London
Other locations
  • Depatment of Neurodisability and Radiology Department, Great Ormond Street Hospital, London
  • Academic Unit of Clinical and Experimental Sciences, Paediatric Neurosciences, University of Southampton
Duration2 years
Grant awarded15 November 2013
Start date1 December 2013
End date30 September 2017
Grant amount£37,500.00
Grant codeGN2173

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1. NHS Choices, Cerebral palsy, How common is cerebral palsy? http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cerebral-palsy/pages/introduction.aspx Website accessed 23 January 2014.

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