(Source: Developing Human Connectome Project)

Brain scans have traditionally proven difficult if not impossible to obtain for babies and particularly for fetuses. There was also the concern of keeping infants safe within an MRI scanner. But the seeds of development and disease may yet be found in those earliest stages of growth.

Now a massive trove of MRI scans of babies during pregnancy and in the first weeks of life are being shared online by a British team.

The undertaking is called the Developing Human Connectome Project, and involves scientists from King’s College London, Imperial College London, and Oxford University.

“The Developing Human Connectome Project is a major advance in understanding human brain development,” said David Edwards, of King’s College London, the lead investigator and a neonatologist. “It will provide the first map of how the brain’s connections develop, and how this goes wrong in disease.”

The range of age would be from 20 weeks to 44 after conception, potentially from the second trimester through the first month of life, according to the project. The images will be the traditional array of MRI images, from white matter and cortical surfaces, to myelin maps and viewpoints.

The project touts its ambitious scope with making future breakthroughs possible, they said in a statement.

“Our goal is to create a dynamic map of human brain connectivity… which will link together imaging, clinical, behavioral, and genetic information. This unique setting, with imaging and collateral data in an expandable open-source informatics structure, will permit wide use by the scientific community.”

The project is backed by a €15 million grant from the European Research Council, with the understanding that the images would be shared as widely as possible.