News items Uncovering new insights into childhood brain development

8 February 2024

A Wellcome Discovery Award funds a new groundbreaking study characterizing the development of the brain during childhood and adolescence in unprecedented detail. New funding will allow researchers to uncover new information about the changes that occur in the developing brain during late childhood and adolescence, with a focus on both neurotypical and neurodivergent development. 

A Wellcome Discovery Award has been awarded to Cardiff University to lead a cutting-edge new research project, together with Cambridge University and the Donders Institute in The Netherlands. The award of €7,015,996 will fund research that aims to understand how the development of the brain at the microscopic level between the ages of 8 and 18 years is linked to cognitive and social-emotional development.  

The research will also investigate brain development in children and adolescents with 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome, shedding light on the neurodevelopmental and mental health implications. Professor Derek Jones, Director of the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC) and School of Psychology at Cardiff University, says: ‘The award will enable us to use advanced imaging techniques to study macroscopic and microscopic changes in the developing brain to a level that has never been attempted before. Whilst broad changes in the brain during development are now relatively well established, much less is known about brain development at the level of the cell and the connections between them.’ 

Rogier Kievit, professor of Developmental Neuroscience at Radboud university medical center and Donders Institute, adds: ‘We increasingly realize that to truly understand the development of the brain and challenges that might arise, we must study how the brains and behaviors of people change over time. This project will allow us a unique combination of spatial precision across a period of years to see how brain changes emerge and unfold.’

Professor Marianne van den Bree, Neuroscience and Mental Health Innovation Institute at Cardiff University, said: 'Late childhood and adolescence are crucial periods of life during which vulnerability to mental health issues tends to become manifest.' Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, University of Cambridge, said: 'This study will allow us to map brain development at a microstructural level, and link this to how children and adolescents develop in terms of their cognitive abilities, social and emotional processes and mental health.'

The team of investigators hopes that the findings of their study will be applied in the future to facilitate early detection of mental health risk and provide an evidence base for longer-term interventions. 

Pictured L-R: Jones, Blakemore, van den Bree, Kievit.

This text appeared on the website of Donders Institute. 

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Pauline Dekhuijzen

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