Young Scientist Samantha Mccann presents – Using Novel Technologies to Assess the Effects of Nutrition on Infant Development

Samantha is a Higher Scientific Officer working with the Nutrition Theme on the Brain Imaging for Global HealTh (BRIGHT) study at MRC Unit The Gambia (MRCG) in Keneba. The BRIGHT Project is a collaborative project led by a team of researchers from University College London, Birkbeck University of London, the Medical Research Council Units in The Gambia and Cambridge, as well as Cambridge University Hospitals. The project is a longitudinal study from birth to 24 months of age, following 200 Gambian infants and 50 infants living in the UK.

Conducting an Eye Tracking assessment on an 8-month old infant.

Conducting an Eye Tracking assessment on an 8-month old infant.

Conducting an Eye Tracking assessment on an 8-month old infant.With a research interest in the effect of malnutrition on brain development, Samantha plays an exceptional role in the BRIGHT study which aims to establish brain function-for-age curves of infants in both Cambridge and The Gambia. These efforts facilitate an insight into the effects that malnutrition, social or environmental difficulties and increased risk of disease, as well as other issues related to living in a low-resource context, may have on infant development.

According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF, 2013), one in every four children worldwide are undernourished before they reach the age of five, and one in every two children is thought to live in poverty. However, although there is a large amount of research that highlights the detrimental impact that these conditions have on infant development, not much is known about the neural basis of these consequences.

To demonstrate the BRIGHT project during the MRCG festival, Samantha will be using novel technologies to assess the effects of nutrition on infant development. Samantha will use a spotlight torch to demonstrate the effect of near infrared light hands and see that their blood vessels glow red. She will demonstrate how the neuroimaging techniques work using Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) and electroencephalogram (EEG) headgear fitted on a dolls head.

Samantha Mccann, Higher Scientific Officer with MRCG’s Nutrition Theme

Samantha Mccann, Higher Scientific Officer with MRCG’s Nutrition Theme

To help explain how fNIRS and EEG determine active and inactive brain regions Samantha will demonstrate the respective headgear worn by infants during testing. She will also use two small tubes of ‘blood’ showing the different colours of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood. A video showing a screen flow recording of fNIRS and eye tracking will also be available to show the infant watching a screen playing live stimuli, as well as the output of the eye tracker so that spectators can see where in infant is looking on the screen.

When asked about her expectations for the event, Samantha said, “I hope this event will be a great way to introduce people to the BRIGHT project and spark interest in the work we are carrying out. I am really looking forward to showing people the amazing technology I work with in Keneba and explaining how this technology is allowing us to learn about infant brain development.”
Samantha is a BSc holder in Medical Neuroscience, from the University of Sussex in Brighton and she also holds an MSc in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Beyond research, Samantha is passionate about running, recently organising and participating in a half marathon in West Kiang to raise money for the Rehabilitation centre.