The mum of a Hassocks teenager, who suffered a brain injury as a baby, has praised research project aiming to gain a better understanding of brain tumours in children.
Kira Middleton, 16, suffered a severe head injury aged two when she was involved in a car accident. She now uses a wheelchair, requires help with personal care and can only use the left side of her body.
Now two studies being funded by Sussex based children’s charity Action Medical Research, could help transform the prospects of children like her.
Professor David Sharp of Imperial College London is developing sophisticated new brain scans to enable more accurate diagnosis of children’s problems after brain injuries.
He hopes that one day this work will help doctors predict how each child may be affected and identify the type of healthcare and educational support that will be most helpful. Since most modern MRI scanners could perform these scans, this work could benefit children across the UK and beyond.
The £199,814 study has been funded by Action Medical Research in partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.
Over three years, Professor Sharp and his team will work with 60 children aged 12-16 years; each child will have an advanced type of MRI scan and, through this, the researchers hope to reveal how damage to the wiring of the brain relates to changes in brain function and to specific problems children can experience – such as difficulties with memory, concentration, learning and behavioural problems such as aggression.
The second study is a collaboration by the University of Exeter, the University of East Anglia and the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, with Action Medical Research funding of £130,818.
Dr Anna Adlam and her team are evaluating whether a computerised memory-training programme can help children aged eight to 16 who have survived a brain injury. The aim is to see if this programme offers benefits in terms of memory, academic performance, behaviour, emotional wellbeing and family life.
Dr Adlam said: “Advances in emergency care mean that most children now survive a traumatic brain injury.
“However, as shown in the recently published study, children can go on to suffer long-term, even life-long difficulties – their social skills, emotions, behaviour and performance at school can all be affected.
“When they grow up, they can even be at increased risk of substance misuse, mental health difficulties, unemployment and criminal behaviour.”
Kira’s mum Erika Cullen believes these studies are hugely important.
She said: “The brain is so complex. There definitely needs to be more research into how different parts of the brain are used, and whether memory can be improved to help children in their everyday life.
“I would love to know more about what Kira is able to understand and whether she thinks ahead. More detailed brain scans have the potential to really help other children who, like Kira, have suffered a serious head injury.”
Kira has no sense of danger and needs help with activities most children might take for granted. Carers come twice a day to help her get ready for the day with a bath or shower and go to bed at night. They also help her enjoy activities like making birthday cards.
Erika said: “Kira is 16 now, but in many ways she’s still a little girl. She’s got the same happy personality she had before her head injury. Thankfully, she has no real understanding of what has happened to her.”
For more about Action Medical Research go to action.org.uk