Pubdate: Thu, 01 Oct 2015
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: Gary Robbins


University to oversee effort to understand adolescent behavior

UC San Diego will oversee one of the largest studies ever about the 
brains of adolescents, hoping to figure out why some youngsters lead 
healthy lives while others develop substance-abuse problems and 
mental-health disorders.

Academic centers across the country will recruit more than 10,000 
students ages 9 and 10 for a study that could last a decade. The main 
goal: to gain a better understanding of one of the least 
scientifically understood segments of the population.

"The study represents an unprecedented opportunity to closely monitor 
adolescents with the most sophisticated technology that we've 
developed in the last decade," said Terry Jernigan, director of UC 
San Diego's Center for Human Development. "We're going to get very 
rich data that we will be sharing with other academic institutions 
within the first year of the program."

She and her colleagues from 20 institutions intend to look at the 
study participants' physical well-being, educational experiences, 
recreational activities, other social interactions, cognitive 
function and emotional health, among other categories. They plan to 
do so using behavioral monitoring, DNA analysis and high-resolution 
brain scans.

Their work will be funded by the National Institutes of Health, which 
might end up spending as much as $300 million on the project.

The agency has so far committed $150 million to the Adolescent Brain 
Cognitive Development, or ABCD, study. UC San Diego will receive $32 
million of that money.

Scientists used to believe that people's brains reached maturity by 
the time they graduated from high school. Researchers now believe 
that most brains don't fully develop until about age 25.

Despite such progress in gauging the brain's maturation, 
neurologists, sociologists, psychologists and others still have an 
incomplete picture of how the brains of adolescents develop - and how 
those changes influence things such as moods, self-centeredness, 
communication patterns and decision-making.

Scientists also are struggling to comprehend how genetics and 
environment influence adolescents' behavior and performance in a 
variety of settings.

Students in the ABCD study will undergo cognitive tests that measure 
a broad range of characteristics, including language skills, the 
ability to solve problems and attitudes toward rebelling or taking 
risks. They will also provide DNA samples that can be stored for 
future genomic analysis.

Many participants will be asked to wear wireless devices that measure 
things such as heart rates and sleep patterns, and they'll undergo 
brain scanning to measure how the biology and the function of their 
brains evolve over time.

Researchers said they will monitor participants' behavior on 
Facebook, Twitter and other social-media platforms.

Dozens of scientists are involved in the project, including those 
based at research schools such as Cornell University, Washington 
University in St. Louis and the University of Pittsburgh.

"I think it's so important that we're addressing a period of 
development when there's a peak in problems like mental illness and 
substance abuse," said B.J. Casey, a developmental psychobiologist at 
Cornell's Weill Medical College.

"The brain is more plastic than it will be going forward. The things 
we learn could help prevent mental illness and improve people's 
lives," she said.

At UC San Diego, Jernigan will coordinate the ABCD study with Sandra 
Brown, the university's vice chancellor for research.

To help manage the project, UC San Diego said it will establish an 
interdisciplinary institute dedicated to childhood neurodevelopment. 
That institute will draw researchers from throughout the school: 
cognitive science, psychology, psychiatry, neurosciences, radiology, 
bioengineering, family medicine, public health, sociology and 
political science.

The project's data and informatics center will be located at UC San 
Diego and run by Anders Dale, a prominent neuroscientist.
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