Leena Haataja

Towards early diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders

The Neo-Neuro research network of seven independent and multidisciplinary groups, led by Professor Leena Haataja, examines the impact of risk and protective factors on long-term neurological prognosis in children at the fetal and neonatal stage.

Fetal and neonatal risk factors affecting the long-term neurological prognosis of children include prematurity, brain hemorrhages, lack of oxygen and inflammation. Protective factors include genetic mechanisms and early interaction between child and parents.

– Based on accumulating research evidence, the prognostic information we are able to provide to the parents of newborn babies at developmental risk is as accurate as possible, project leader Leena Haataja explains.

Neo-Neuro develops methods for assessing the functional ability of children in order to be able to diagnose children with neurological issues as early as possible.

– With the sensitive and validated methods we have developed for this purpose, we are able to target the support and rehabilitation measures requiring social resources to children at the greatest developmental risk, Haataja says.

She explains that according to studies, rehabilitation which starts before the age of six months can result in significantly better independent functional abilities in children with cerebral palsy than rehabilitation that starts later.

Quality control for rehabilitation and intervention studies requires the national unification of research and treatment processes.

– We also develop methods which allow for the active consideration of the views of children with neurological disabilities during rehabilitation. Rehabilitation which the child finds relevant and goal-oriented is also theoretically the most effective in bringing about positive long-term changes.

Long-term monitoring of small premature infants

The Neo-Neuro network has received international attention for the extensive long-term monitoring study on risk and protective factors in the development of very low birthweight premature infants (PIPARI), for the HINE method developed for the early identification of cerebral palsy and for the integration of the evaluation methods for cerebral palsy, which are based on research evidence, to clinical work with patients.

– There has also been widespread interest in a study based on national data which showed that on the level of the population, the low Apgar score in newborn babies is linked to subsequent severe chronic neurological diseases.

Haataja explains that the next major objective is to develop motion analysis methods based on machine learning. In the future, they could be used in studies supplementary to clinical diagnostics during the first year of children’s lives, and in studies on the effectiveness of rehabilitation.

The project leader has eleven PhD students currently preparing their dissertation, four of whom are involved in a project for monitoring the development of premature babies, two in projects carried out at the BABA Center (BAby Brain Activity) and five in independent research groups of three to ten people which have been formed around the subject of each graduate’s ongoing dissertation.

The cooperation between the research projects is implemented through the guidance received by students preparing their dissertations and by postdoc researchers, joint research projects and co-financing. The Neo-Neuro network has been constructed over the past 18 years.

The cooperation projects represent several medical specialities (pediatric neurology, pediatrics, neonatology, neuroradiology, clinical neurophysiology, gynecology).

The research network also includes psychologists and neuropsychologists, physical therapists, an occupational therapist, physicists, engineers, statisticians and nurses.

Contact details
Leena Haataja
Helsinki University Hospital Children and Adolescents

Linkkejä tutkimuksiin

Prediction of neuromotor outcome in infants born preterm at 11 years of age using volumetric neonatal magnetic resonance imaging and neurological examinations. Dev Med Child Neurol 2016; 58:721-27.

Multiprofessional evaluation in clinical practise: establishing a core set of outcome measures for children with cerebral palsy. Dev Med Child Neurol 2017; 59: 322-28.

Low Apgar scores at both one and five minutes are associated with long-term neurological morbidity. Acta Paediatr. 2018 Jun;107(6):942-951.