Nelson Laboratory | Early Biological 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!

Neurodevelopmental Outcome of Zika-Infected Infants

The Zika Infection and Neurodevelopment in Children (ZINC) project is a collaborative effort between the Labs of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children's Hospital and the Maternal-Infant Studies Center at the University of Puerto Rico. The purpose of the study is look at how Zika infection may impact infant development and behavioral characteristics. We hope to learn more about the more subtle impairments associated with the Zika virus early in infancy through the use of brain imaging, eye-tracking, and behavioral measures. In order to accomplish this testing, we have created a mobile electroencephalography (EEG) and eye-tracking cart. Ultimately, we hope that insights from this study can contribute to the identification of treatment targets and the development of new treatments.

Perinatal Brain Injury Study

Neonatal encephalopathy (NE) due to hypoxia-ischemia and other etiologies is a major public health concern as it occurs in 6/1000 live term births and has devastating consequences. Many affected neonates suffer lifelong motor disabilities and epilepsy but increasingly the high prevalence of cognitive and behavioral disabilities is becoming recognized as well. This study is a collaboration between physicians and researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, along with the Labs of Cognitive Neuroscience (LCN). Its purpose is to use a tool called Frequency domain near infrared spectroscopy (FDNIRS) in combination with Diffuse Correlation Spectroscopy (DCS) to provide direct quantitative bedside measures of brain metabolism in newborns immediately following perinatal brain injury. Researchers at the LCN then conduct visits with these families when children are roughly 9 and 18 months of age. We use electroencephalography (EEG) and developmental assessments to a) understand how cognitive development in infancy and early childhood is impacted by perinatal brain injury, and b) explore whether early FDNIRS measurements can predict ongoing cognitive development in infants and young children.