The largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the U.S. is underway and FIU researchers are at the forefront.
FIU is one of the 19 research sites for the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) landmark study dubbed the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development, or ABCD. The study will follow the biological and behavioral development of more than 10,000 children beginning at ages 9-10 through adolescence into early adulthood.
Recruitment for ABCD has started and will continue over a two-year period through partnerships with public and private schools near research sites across the country. The NIH has identified a specific list of schools for participant enrollment in South Florida to include hundreds of youth from diverse ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds in Miami-Dade County and surrounding areas. Leading the recruitment efforts for FIU is psychologist Raul Gonzalez.
“Having a site in South Florida will ensure that the voices of our community are included in the study,” Gonzalez said. “We want to ensure our unique and diverse community is well represented in the larger sample.”
Gonzalez is associate professor of psychology, psychiatry and immunology, and a faculty member at the FIU Center for Children and Families. He is leading the 14-member research team from FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education and Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work. The project includes child mental health and social work experts, as well as psychologists and a physicist, who have extensive track records in drug abuse research and cognitive neuroscience.
State-of-the-art facilities and resources at FIU’s Center for Children and Families as well as the Center for Imaging Science serve as the ABCD study sites for MRI and behavioral visits. Last month, Siemens — a leading supplier of medical diagnostics equipment — delivered a 13-ton MRI machine which brings the latest imaging technology to FIU. It is the first magnet of its kind in Florida.
Physicist Angie Laird is spearheading the neuroimaging component of the study.
“We are very excited about FIU’s new 3 Tesla Siemens Prisma MRI, which will allow us to broaden our research capabilities in neuroscience imaging,” Laird said. “Our Prisma will play a critical role in the ABCD Study, by providing the means to collect datasets that will illuminate how children’s brains develop over the course of adolescence.”
During the course of the next decade, scientists will use advanced brain imaging, interviews and behavioral testing to determine how childhood experiences interact with each other and with a child’s changing biology to affect brain development and—ultimately—social, behavioral, academic, health and other outcomes.
Understanding these relationships may help reveal the biological and environmental building blocks that best contribute to successful and resilient young adults. This enhanced knowledge also may lead to ways to predict potential developmental problems so that they can be prevented or reversed. Families that volunteer will be part of groundbreaking research that promises to inform future educational strategies, child development innovations, research priorities, more effective public health interventions and science-based policy decisions.