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‘Identifying cognitive problems early is the key to preventing them’

Today she took the bus to the Princess Máxima Center, but dr. Marita Partanen is planning to be using a bike soon. The Canadian neuropsychologist just moved to the Netherlands to start a research group, which will focus on cognitive impairments in children with cancer.
Cognitive skills may decline in children with cancer. A drop in IQ or deterioration of other skills may reduce the quality of life during and after treatment. The cognitive decline may be caused by various factors, but it is possible these can be detected early in treatment. ‘I have worked with children at various stages of treatment and survivorship’, tells Partanen, ‘and I believe that we can prevent some cognitive difficulties if we can detect them early.’

Before she came to the Princess Máxima Center, dr. Partanen worked at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee with children of various cancers and blood disorders. At the Princess Máxima Center, she hopes to start following children close to diagnosis to be able to differentiate risk factors more precisely.

Partanen has ambitious plans regarding brain imaging techniques. In Utrecht, she will be able to use modern MRI scanners with high resolution. ‘With these scanners I may find abnormalities in the brain that point towards specific cognitive problems,’ explains Partanen. ‘If this is the case, we may be able to target intervention early on and limit cognitive decline.’