Inequality of opportunity for healthy child development is threatening the future of Minnesota and societies worldwide. As the income gap grows, says Megan Gunnar, so too does the opportunity gap for children and families.
Professor Gunnar believes that we cannot allow children to begin life at a disadvantage. That’s why she is dedicated to understanding the complex set of experiences that allow a child to thrive. After all, we get out of our children what we put into them, and a lack of positive opportunities for our children leave us all at a disadvantage.
Provost Karen Hanson has announced 29 Grand Challenges Research grants to advance the research goals of Driving Tomorrow, the Twin Cities Campus Strategic Plan.
The 29 funded research collaborations address the University's five interrelated Grand Challenges areas of special focus. The areas of focus are wide-ranging—e.g., high-tech strategies to mitigate water pollution, understanding the human stories behind the global immigration crisis, and precision medicine to fight cancer. The investments are one milestone in advancing Strategic Plan recommendations to seed and support interdisciplinary research addressing Grand Challenges through a bottom-up, faculty-driven process.
Because Toleu believes that her daughter’s early autism diagnosis has helped her get the help she needs to thrive, and because she wants other children to have the same advantages, she signed her family up to take part in SPARK, a national research study with a goal of enlisting some 50,000 people with autism and their families.
The goal of SPARK is to collect and analyze data about people with autism to advance understanding and research. Subjects and their close family members provide DNA samples so that researchers can pinpoint genetic causes of the disorder. In Minnesota, the study is led by Suma Jacob, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.
Megan Gunnar, Ph.D., Regents Professor, Distinguished McKnight University Professor, and director of the Institute of Child Development, has been appointed to Gov. Mark Dayton’s Early Learning Council.
The council aims to ensure that all children are school-ready by 2020. Council members “make recommendations to the governor and legislature on how to create a high-quality early childhood system in Minnesota that will help improve educational outcomes for all children.”
Three grants totaling more than $10 million — the most recent of which was bestowed on Wednesday — were awarded to three University of Minnesota-affiliated projects working to chart brain connections in different stages of life. The three projects fall under the umbrella of the Human Connectome Project, which previously mapped the brains of healthy, college-aged people. With the new grants, researchers are looking to explore the brains of younger subjects, Infant, Child, and Adolescent brain development will be the focus of this new research.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota (UMN) and the University of North Carolina (UNC) have been awarded a $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to launch the Baby Connectome Project (BCP).
The BCP aims to provide scientists with unprecedented information about how the human brain develops from birth through early childhood and will uncover factors contributing to healthy brain development...“This is an unprecedented effort to map the development of brain circuitries during a stage when our brains undergo highly dynamic changes that have life-long impacts on cognitive development. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to carry out this exciting project,” said Weili Lin, Ph.D., co-principal investigator of the BCP.
"Kids adopted domestically or internationally often experience a lot of early trauma before adoption. Many children adopted internationally suffer from institutional neglect. In an orphanage, they might not get one-on-one care. A lot of kids in foster care in the domestic system may have experienced multiple transitions, which can have the same effects as trauma and sometimes neglect...
At our clinic, we have managed to continue to provide care, thanks to some amazing philanthropic partners. Now we are also applying for grants to cover our costs. We are still able to see kids, but the situation is fairly sad for kids in other parts of the country who don’t have access to high-quality, low-cost medical care."
The development project led by Essa Yacoub, Ph.D., professor of radiology, and Kathleen Thomas, Ph.D., professor in the Institute of Child Development, will be the first to cover the entire age range from 5-21 years to explore the physical changes of the brain but also the changes in functional brain networks across its development.
“Developmental psychologists have long been fascinated by the wide range of functions and skills that develop across childhood and adolescence, and have been actively researching the brain systems that support these behavioral changes for many years,” said Thomas. “However, this project will be the first large-scale multi-site national study to map out brain changes across this entire age span.”