Neuroscientific studies on children being conducted at University

Daniel Lederman/Contributing Writer


FIU serves as a host for cognitive research for children in the Miami area.

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development program (ABCD) at FIU uses neuroscientific facilities around the nation to collect biological and behavioral information during a longitudinal study of nearly 10,000 children, as stated by the ABCD official site.

Spread amongst a handful of rooms, Research Coordinator Chelsea Greaves and her colleagues work with children ages nine to 10, playing three small computer games tailored to stimulate certain cognitive functions. Once the children have become acclimated to the environment of the offices and fMRI room, the real magic begins.

fMRI scanning sessions are run by Greaves, along with graduate researchers Katie Bottenhorn, Emily Boeving and Lauren Hill in the Center for Imaging Science. The scanning setup, according to Greaves, is equipped with a large television behind the fMRI machine and a head brace used to stabilize the heads of the children during scanning, with a small mirror placed inside to reflect the images of the television towards the children.

The children then play the same computer games again, she said, but this time, the fMRI picks up on physical and chemical changes in their brain while in use. The process is repeated with each of the nearly 600 children under the ABCD study’s care.

This study, Greaves said, will last 10 years and spans about 21 institutions, nearly all of them universities except for two affiliated hospitals. With the consent of their parents, these children are scanned every two years and are studied to explore structural and functional changes of the brain over time.

The goal of the study is to acquire more information regarding developmental growth to form a more solid foundation of adolescent brain knowledge, according to Greaves. And this information, as the ABCD’s official site states, will help parents and educational institutions to “promote the health, well-being, and success of children.”

Some of the topics Greaves and her team are focusing on involve adolescent to late-teen mental growth, ranging from the effect of screen time with digital devices to risk factors for drug and/or alcohol abuse later in life.

“Scientists will determine how childhood experiences interact with each other,” as well as “social, behavioral, academic, health, and other outcomes,” according to the ABCD study official site.

Although cognitive studies have been done in the past, Greaves said that none have been “as in-depth or carried out during as long a period” as the ABCD study.

Florida International University’s branch, being situated in the heart of Hispanic-populated Miami, she said, is “playing a significant role in expanding the diversity of the children included within the ABCD program.”

The ABCD study at FIU receives about 2.5 million dollars a year in awards to continue its study, according to Greaves. While the program’s funding depends on the institution as well as test group size, Greaves said both factors rely on the population surrounding the testing site.

While Greaves was unable to discuss her findings due to the study’s confidential medical classification, she did say that the children in the study have contributed to case-specific findings, but nothing substantial has been found yet.

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