Scientists are trying to connect the dots — to get a clearer picture of what exactly adverse childhood experiences do to the body and why the study results came out the way they did.
"Well, you've reshaped the biology of the child," says Megan Gunnar, a developmental psychologist at the University of Minnesota who, for more than 30 years, has been studying the ways children respond to stressful experiences. "This is how nature protects us," Gunnar adds. We all become adapted to living in "the kinds of environments we're born into."
The Fifth Annual Aspen Brain Forum, Shaping the Developing Brain: Prenatal through Early Childhood, focused on developmental brain research and what it can tell us about designing interventions to improve outcomes for at-risk children. It looked at typical and atypical development of human learning, memory, emotion, and social behavior, as well as socioeconomic, family, and nutritional factors that can affect brain and behavior.
His presentation, An Overview on Nutritional Status and Brain Development: The Importance of Timing in Determining the Right Intervention and Brain Assessment, can be viewed on the Brain Forum website.
Megan Gunnar, director and Regents Professor at the Institute of Child Development and CNBD associate director, gave the keynote address at Minnesota Public Radio’s (MPR) “Healthy States” initiative discussion with community leaders on the science of toxic stress in babies and children on January 20. The discussion was broadcast on MPR.
Women who drink when they are pregnant risk having a child with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder – problems that can include damage to the brain and nervous system, and, one study finds, overweight. At the University of Minnesota, researcher Jeff Wozniak saw this in data on 446 children with FAS. Wozniak found greater likelihood of overweight or obesity in some: “Those with partial FAS were at a particularly high risk for obesity and overweight during the adolescent years.”
"This is the brain on iron deficiency," explains U of M researcher and pediatrician Dr. Michael K. Georgieff, pointing to images from his animal research. The geometry of a disorganized brain is striking.
Georgieff spoke last week to attendees of the 5th annual Aspen Brain Forum, the goal of which was to help define the public health crises posed by nutritional deprivation during neurodevelopment.
“Outdoor play gives you multiple bangs for your buck,” said Cathy Jordan, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota, and a member of the Minnesota Children and Nature Connection, an organization that promotes outdoor play and natural environments for children. “When kids have exposure to nature, they reap physical and emotional benefits, improve their attention and focus, and learn social skills through playing in a calming environment that has relatively little cost or risk.”
The CTSI has recognized Kelvin O. Lim, MD, with the third annual Mentor of the Year Award, a new award that recognizes mentors with the rank of assistant professor. The award recognizes outstanding research mentors, using nominations provided by the mentees themselves and faculty colleagues. Dr. Lim serves as a professor of the Department of Psychiatry at the U of M Medical School. His research focuses on applying advanced neuroimaging methods to the study of neuropsychiatric disorders.
Michael Georgieff, professor in the Institute of Child Development and the Department of Pediatrics, and director of the Center for Neurobehavioral Development, has been awarded the Samuel J. Fomon Nutrition Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The award is given out annually to recognize an individual for outstanding research achievement relating to the nutrition of infants and children.