Cullen and her colleagues are launching a 5-year brain imaging study that will examine self-harm behavior among 152 adolescent girls, a subgroup that expresses this behavior more than other populations. These girls will have a range of NSSI symptoms, from non-existent to severe. In addition, the study will collect data on brain and other biological metrics over the course of three years.
The study will follow an emerging research paradigm in the psychiatry community called Research Domain Criteria Initiative, or RDoC for short. Unlike traditional psychiatry research, which has followed the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) criteria, Cullen’s RDoC research will try to link symptoms and behavior to biological metrics – things like neurocircuitry, hormones and other indicators.
"Animal studies where we can experimentally control exposures to adversity demonstrate that the type of effects observed in this study are predictive of poor health later in development," Gunnar told Reuters Health by email. "It is not rocket science to know that children need safe places to live in order to grow into healthy and productive adults."
"Despite this, many of the children in these neighborhoods will be resilient," Gunnar said. "Identifying the protective factors that support that resilience and building on them, especially for children showing the effects of toxic exposures, is the appropriate response to the pediatric health issues revealed by this study."
“We know from intervention studies that the earlier you intervene, the better the outcome,” says Jason Wolff, an assistant professor in educational psychology.
Wolff and colleagues like Jed Elison are detecting objective differences in the brains of children who have autism spectrum disorders as early as six months old.
A child’s first years are a time of rapid development and dynamic change—and of vulnerability. Detecting autism earlier could alter the course of a child’s life for the better.
Jed Elison is applying breakthroughs in neuroscience to understand this complex development. Through a combination of behavioral observations and biomarkers, Elison and colleagues are reducing the age of first diagnosis.
Executive function skills—like staying focused, flexible problem solving, and inhibiting impulses—are more predictive of kindergarten readiness and academic success than IQ. Children who don’t have them begin to falter immediately.
Professor Philip Zelazo has discovered that a potential solution to close the opportunity gap is to reliably assess executive function and intervene to help at-risk children develop these skills.
CNBD Director, Dr. Michael Georgieff, has been added to the UMN Medical School Wall of Scholarship in recognition of significant research publication contributions. Faculty listed on the Wall of Scholarship must have a primary appointment in our Medical School and be current faculty members. For work to be featured, the faculty member must have first or last author credits on a publication that has been cited at least 1,000 times as indicated by two of three major citation indices (Google Scholar, Scopus, Web of Science).
“This is important because while cigarette smoking is widely recognized to be harmful to one’s health, the idea that smoking does this by changing particular parts of the epigenome is new. This is the largest epigenome-wide study of smoking to date, and it shows how much and how long smoking might damage the epigenome in the general population,” said Demerath.
Demerath said the information gathered in this study could be useful because it suggests a possible biomarker of smoking exposure damage over time.
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.