Huge study of teen brains could reveal roots of mental illness, impacts of drug abuse

Science | AAAS | 1/3/2018 | Staff
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Combining results from 628 children's brains, this MRI scan shows regions activated as faces are viewed (yellow and orange) and other areas (blue and cyan) activated during a demanding working memory task.

Chya* (pronounced SHY-a), who is not quite 10 years old, recently spent an unusual day at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. Part of the time she was in a "cool" brain scanner while playing video games designed to test her memory and other brain-related skills. At other points, she answered lots of questions about her life and health on an iPad.

Slender - Baltimore - Grader - Drawing - Hip

A slender Baltimore third grader who likes drawing, hip hop, and playing with her pet Chihuahua, Chya is one of more than 6800 children now enrolled in an unprecedented examination of teenage brain development. The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study—or ABCD Study—will complete its 2-year enrollment period in September, and this month will release a trove of data from 4500 early participants into a freely accessible, anonymized database. Ultimately, the study aims to follow 10,000 children for a decade as they grow from 9- and 10-year-olds into young adults.

Supported by the first chunk of $300 million pledged by several institutes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, teams at 21 sites around the United States are regularly using MRI machines to record the structure and activity of these young brains. They're also collecting reams of psychological, cognitive, and environmental data about each child, along with biological specimens such as their DNA. In addition to providing the first standardized benchmarks of healthy adolescent brain development, this information should allow scientists to probe how substance use, sports injuries, screen time, sleep habits, and other influences may affect—or be affected by—a maturing brain.

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