Q&A with the LCN Principal Investigators
This summer, the LCN is excited to be celebrating our 10 year anniversary! We would like to thank everyone who helped with recruiting, collecting data, analyzing data, writing up papers, etc. over the years and especially the dedicated families who make this research possible!
Since this milestone is enormously important to us, we would like to share with you a short Q&A with all three of our Principal Investigators to sum up some of our work over the past 10 years as well as our expectations for the next 10!
What are the LCN's top 3 contributions to the fields of child development and cognitive neuroscience?
- Increasing a better understanding of the effects of early life adversity on development.
- We have known that children exposed to bad things can have compromised development-- we have now figured out that these things can be “biologically embedded;” that is, how a child’s biological development is impacted, not just their behavioral development.
- We have also developed tools that have the potential to diagnose autism and dyslexia in the infancy period.
Where do you see the LCN in the next 10 years?
Dr. Nelson: We hope to have a larger international footprint with a focus on brain development in low resource countries. We will also be moving towards more translational research by carrying out clinical trials, implementing experimental diagnostic tools into the clinic, and overall bringing our research to scale. We might also hope to understand what goes awry during early brain development that leads some children to go on to develop various disorders or delays.
Dr. Gaab: In the next 10 years, we hope to have well-established structural neuroimaging in infancy,talk in terms of Connectomes, and have some idea about intragenerational transmission of brain structure and function. We also hope to have some idea about the links between neurometabolites and brain structure/function. Finally, we will have even more international projects..
Dr. Faja: I envision the LCN making a big contribution to the early detection and treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders like autism and dyslexia in the next 10 years. I think that understanding early brain development will change how we understand the causes of these conditions and change our clinical care for children at risk for developing them. I think the LCN will also be on the cutting edge of using new technologies to link brain and behavioral development. In 10 years, I think the Faja lab will be much bigger – hopefully with multiple projects that develop and test the effects of interventions for neurodevelopment disorders. Our work in the Faja lab will hopefully help us understand subgroups within the autism spectrum and understand the range of possibility for changing the course of brain development and behavior.
What is the most exciting potential advance in the field of developmental neuroimaging in 5-10 years?
Dr. Nelson: The development of new technology and/or refinement of existing technology including NIRS (near-infrared spectroscopy). It will be plausible to use these systems in clinics and in the field in the next 5-10 years.
Dr. Gaab: I think that the fact that we can perform MRI scans on infants and young children will tremendously advance the field of developmental cognitive neuroscience. I also think that MRI scanners with higher field strength (i.e., more powerful magnets) will help us to discover some fundamental basics of the brain. Furthermore, I think that MR spectroscopy, especially in combination with DTI and fMRI, will lead to new important discoveries
Dr. Faja: Technology continues to make leaps forward. We are already seeing more sensitive imaging tools and more flexibility in how we are able to record and analyze imagining data. This is will allow more creative uses of imaging that allow us to record brain data from more children than we have been able to in the past and in much more sophisticated ways and realistic settings.
What light do neuroimaging tools shed on the risk for developmental disorders that have previously been missed by using only traditional behavioral tools?
Dr. Nelson: We can look for signatures for Autism Spectrum Disorders in infancy before there are any behavioral signs of the disorder. We can actually examine the brain circuitry to see what has gone wrong (behavior only shows the result of something that has already gone wrong). Therefore, if we are able to catch it before it happens, we may be able to provide an intervention to change the brain before the process ever occurs.
Dr. Faja: Neuroimaging tools have proven more sensitive than behavioral measures in detecting very early onset of ASD. In our research, they are also starting to give us important clues into how interventions are working.
Dr. Gaab: Neuroimaging could show that functional and structural brain alterations characteristic of developmental dyslexia predate the onset of reading instruction. For instance, we and others could show altered functional networks during reading-related tasks in preschool children with a familial risk for DD compared to their peers. Additionally, we and others could show that white matter integrity and volume in left-hemispheric white matter pathways strongly correlated with pre-reading skills, such as the ability to manipulate the sounds of language, as early as kindergarten AND that white matter alterations characteristic for DD seem to be already present in infancy.
What is the most exciting part of directing a Boston based research program?
Dr. Nelson: Boston is the intellectual capital of the world. Here, the ability to recruit talented people into the lab is unsurpassed. We also have the privilege and ability to collaborate with many organizations here and among the most gifted young scientists anywhere in the world.
Dr. Gaab: Boston is a hub for science. If you would like to hear someone speak then just wait a few weeks and he/she will most likely show up in Boston and give a talk. I also like the fact that I have three graduate students from three different universities and that we have collaborators all over the Boston Area, only a short bike ride away.
Dr. Faja: I love how interested people are to connect with each other in Boston. Families here in New England are so passionate about research and researchers are incredibly collaborative. Boston Children’s also attracts people from all over the world, so it’s an amazing place to do clinical research because we see truly fascinating patients who challenge us constantly to rethink our understanding of neurodevelopment.