From leading breakthrough research on high risk infants to working alongside Enlighten Mobility to develop the GMat Neuromotor Screening, Nathalie Maitre, M.D., Ph.D., is advancing early detection and intervention. As co-chair of the upcoming 2021 Early Cerebral Palsy E-Health Summit, August 13-14, Dr. Maitre looks forward to bringing together distinguished researchers and clinicians to continue raising the bar on the way high risk infants are diagnosed and supported for improved outcomes.
What’s new at this year’s Early Cerebral Palsy E-Health Summit?
There is a focus on early detection and intervention – and that’s a big milestone because we’re lowering the age of detection in high risk infants to `zero-to-minus-three-months’ of age. Before this, we pushed the boundary to `below-two-years’ of age and now we’re saying detection should be even younger. Early detection allows you to intervene earlier. It’s like a savings account in the developmental trajectory bank. A trajectory builds on everything you’ve done before. So if you’re delayed at the beginning, or if your beginning is halted or impaired, then the whole trajectory will be blunted. No matter how much you invest later, it’s never going to have the same value. The earlier you change a trajectory, the greater the return on investment and the more likely you’ll correct the trajectory.
How has early detection and intervention changed?
In the last several years, there’s been a growing interest in early detection and the realization that we don’t have to wait to diagnose. New international guidelines and tools available to empower those guidelines allow us to really push the boundaries of what is early. At the same time, we recognize that the earlier you are, the more uncertainty there is and therefore the greater the burden on safety. In the world of movement disorders and cerebral palsy (CP) in particular, the earlier we go, the more careful we need to be. We want to screen and find as many babies as possible who could benefit from being referred early and not miss a single one. And making sure that we refer them to the kinds of interventions that are designed specifically with safety in mind.
As an inventor, how did you end up specializing in early detection and intervention?
I wanted to design interventions that would change outcomes for children, especially the babies that I cared for who had brain injuries so early in life. But then I started realizing there wasn’t that much research in this space – we didn’t know who was going to have CP for example, because we couldn’t detect abnormalities or make diagnoses until children were two years of age. And I knew from neurodevelopmental science, by two years of age, we have already missed so many opportunities. In 2014, I was fortunate to be invited to join an international group, Impact for CP. We got together in Vienna – there were 40 of us, but it wasn’t just scientists and clinicians. There were also parents, advocates, community stakeholders – and we put together guidelines for early detection and intervention based on our systematic review of the evidence, which serve as the roadmap for all clinicians serving this space.
What do you tell parents coping with a child that requires intervention?
The worst thing as a parent is when you’re told, ‘we’ll just have to watch and wait,’ and that’s just not acceptable. But there can be uncertainty in detection. So I account for that by being extremely honest with parents. Saying, ‘we are human beings. We know something is not quite right. We know that things look like they’re going in this direction.’ The process of early detection starts a conversation with parents and that conversation evolves and allows you to jointly develop an approach and plan. The most rewarding part of my work is empowering a parent to help their child. When we work through a diagnosis, I want parents to come away feeling like they can really help their child.
You’re working with Marissa and the Enlighten Mobility team to develop the GMat – how did you get started?
The first day I met Marissa on a Zoom call I was bowled over. Marissa has such big dreams, and she WILL change the world. Like Marissa, I also have big dreams and want to change the world. Working with Marissa is a joy – and a dream for any inventor. With the GMat, we’re introducing the first automated non-invasive neuromotor screening for newborns. Marissa shares my passion for early detection and intervention. She’s committed to doing the work and making sure the GMat will be available so all newborns and their families can benefit from screening for neuromotor abnormalities on day one.