Nelson Laboratory | Early Adversity

Brain Imaging as a Measure of Future Cognitive Outcomes in Children

Brief Description
This is an exciting project introducing a neuroimaging toolkit in urban Bangladesh to study brain structure and function in infants and toddlers. Our Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-sponsored project is a collaboration between Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, University of Virginia, University College London, and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b).’s Hospital, University of Virginia, University College London, and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b).

We are using functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), electroencephalograms (EEG), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), eye-tracking, and behavioral measures (Mullen Scales of Early Learning and executive functioning tasks) to study the association between exposure to early adversities (e.g., biological, environmental, psychosocial) and cognitive development in children of Bangladesh. Although previous research in low-income settings have used coarse behavioral measures to gauge development, using imaging and behavioral assessments provides us with a robust set of tools that are portable, low-cost methods of assessing cognitive development and developing a database on early brain development, which can potentially be deployed globally, particularly in low resource settings where adversities are abundant.

Study Update!
Having set up the neuroimaging lab, our staff in Dhaka have been successfully collecting fNIRS, EEG, MRI, eye-tracking, and behavioral data on 6-month, 24-month, 36-month and 5-year-old cohorts! We have expanded the study to include a new high-income cohort who have come in for their 6-month and 3-year visits, and will soon be returning for their 2-year and 5-year visits. We have also included an exciting new executive function task at 5-years, CANTAB.


HEALthy Brain and Child Development Study (hBCD)

Brief Description
Becoming a new mother can be exciting and intimidating, especially when additional health concerns are involved. As part of a greater initiative to end addiction, we hope to better understand substance use disorder in expecting mothers and look to provide better future for all children.

Eligibility for Participation
As a research unit of Boston Children’s Hospital, we invite pregnant mothers, infants and children to help us answer questions of this nature through participation in our research studies. The study is enrolling healthy expecting mothers and healthy infants or children. We are also enrolling expecting mothers struggling with opioid use disorder and infants or children, who may have been exposed to opioids during pregnancy.

Research Contact
Call 857-218-3011 or email familiesHEAL@childrens.harvard.edu

Participation Details
Depending on when you or your child begin the study, you will either have one or two visits. The length of the visits also varies based on when you or your child enrolls in the study. If you enroll when you are pregnant, you will have two virtual visits. If you enroll your child in the study, your child will either come in for a visit at 3 months and 6 months of age or once at 3 years of age. If you are interested in participating, we will arrange a time that is convenient for you and your child. During the visits we ask you to fill out a few questionnaires and we will show your baby some videos while we record their eye movements. We’ll also use a special, non-invasive cap that lets us see their brain activity while they watch the videos. We offer $25 to you per session, so up to $50 in total, as a thank you for participating, as well as a free toy for your baby. We can also provide free parking or transportation and free childcare for siblings.

Full Description
In utero exposure to opioids is causing significant societal concern given the worsening statistics of opioid-related use and abuse in women of child-bearing age. Over the past 2 decades, the rate of opiate usage across the US has increased and the number of newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) has increased. Thus, the opioid crisis represents a constellation of adverse conditions that places the developing child at significantly increased risk for mortality, small gestational growth, preterm delivery, postnatal failure to thrive and worsened neurobehavioral, scholastic, and societal outcomes. Within this project, we will use a battery of behavioral and neuroimaging tools, beginning late prenatal and extending into school age, to examine the effects of opioid and adversity exposure on development.


COVID-19 Supplement - HEALthy Brain and Child Development Study (hBCD)

Brief Description
As part of a greater initiative of the HEALthy Brain and Child Development Study, we now focus our efforts on better understanding stress associated with infection in pregnancy and look to provide better support children born in the time of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Eligibility for Participation
We invite pregnant mothers both with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis and without a COVID-19 diagnosis to enroll in this study.

Research Contact
Call 857-218-3011 or email familiesHEAL@childrens.harvard.edu

Participation Details
All procedures prior to your child’s birth will take place at virtually via online surveys. After your child is born, you will have two visits at the Labs of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children’s Hospital. The visits will occur when your child is 3 and 6 months of age. If you are interested in participating, we will arrange a time that is convenient for you and your child. If you are interested in participating, we will arrange a time that is convenient for you and your child. During the visits we ask you to fill out a few questionnaires and we will show your baby some videos while we record their eye movements. We’ll also use a special, non-invasive cap that lets us see their brain activity while they watch the videos. We offer $25 to you per session, so up to $100 in total, as a thank you for participating, as well as a free toy for your baby. We can also provide free parking or transportation and free childcare for siblings.

Full Description
The COVID-19 pandemic has reached nearly every continent across the globe with a profound impact in the United States. There is limited information regarding the susceptibility of pregnant women to more severe illness, with corresponding implications for their child. While there is uncertainty surrounding the evidence of vertical transmission, the consequential stress of contracting the infection while pregnant may pose a unique set of challenges for new infants and mothers in the current global, national, and local environments. Beyond the physical effects of the illness, contracting the virus during pregnancy is undoubtedly stressful. By using varied methods and following the same babies over their first year, we aim to create a comprehensive picture of how a prenatal COVID-19 diagnosis influences the earliest stages of development.