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Hundreds of Southeast Michigan tweens needed to help U-M scientists explore the developing brain

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Parents of tweens and teens often wish they could peer inside their child’s brain, to figure out what makes them tick or what’s troubling them.

So do scientists who are trying to understand the human brain, and how it develops.  

Now, a new national study will try to do just that, on a grand scale involving more than 10,000 young people nationwide. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, and called the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, it launches today at sites across the Unites States.

One of those sites – the only one in Michigan – is the University of Michigan Medical School. U-M has long studied the brain using the kind of advanced MRI imaging techniques and in-depth interviews that the new study will use.

But, says co-lead U-M researcher Mary Heitzeg, Ph.D., the ABCD study will take that work to a new level because of the size, scope and length of the research. Heitzeg is a psychologist and neuroscientist in the U-M Medical School Department of Psychiatry.

Mary Heitzeg

Mary Heitzeg, Ph.D.

Mary Heitzeg, Ph.D.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for us to work with families to seek answers to questions that our society has pondered for years, including how our early experiences and factors such as sleep, sports, drugs and alcohol affect brain development and vice versa,” she says.

Starting this week, Heitzeg and her team will start enrolling the first of more than 550 children who are currently ages 9 or 10 and go to school in the portion of southeast Michigan surrounding Ann Arbor. They’ll continue seeking new 9 and 10 year olds from this area for the next two years.

Parents must consent to their child’s participation in an annual study session, and must agree to take part in interviews as well. Every other year, the children will have an MRI brain scan at U-M. Families will be reimbursed for their time.

To ensure that the ABCD study gets a sample of children that represents the American population, researchers at the U-M Institute for Social Research are playing a key role in the study as well.

They’ve selected specific schools – public, charter, private and parochial – for each of the 19 study sites to contact for the initial recruitment effort. U-M study staff are reaching out to principals and other officials at the schools selected in Michigan, asking them to help spread the word about the opportunity for their 9- and 10-year-old students to take part in the ABCD study.

Parents who are interested in learning more about the ABCD study at U-M can visit http://www.abcdstudy.org/sites/umich.html.

Michigan school officials and parent-teacher organization leaders who wish to learn more can call 877-615-3149 or email ABCDschools@umich.edu . The study has been endorsed by the AASA, The School Superintendents Association.   

More about the ABCD study:

Adolescence is a time of extraordinary physical, emotional, and intellectual growth as well as a changing social environment full of new challenges and opportunities that help shape a young person’s adult identity, health and well-being.

There is much to learn about how varied adolescent experiences (e.g., participation in extracurricular activities; playing video games; sleep habits; head injuries from sports; experimentation with alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other substances), affect development and vice-versa. This is particularly true in our rapidly changing world, which is now dominated by social media and other forms of communication in which adolescents readily engage.  

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.  

The ABCD Coordinating Center is housed at the University of California at San Diego and recruitment will be conducted through schools at 19 study sites across the country. For more information about this landmark study, please visit its website at www.ABCDStudy.org.

The ABCD study is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Cancer Institute, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the NIH Office of  Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, and the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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