UVM taking part in major childhood development study

Published: Feb. 25, 2019 at 5:56 PM EST
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The University of Vermont is taking part in one of the largest childhood development studies of its kind in the country. It aims to create a groundbreaking body of work that will influence researchers for years to come.

Stefanie Waite and her son, 13-year-old Emmett, are looking at brain scans. They're MRI images of Emmett's brain starting in 2016.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: What is it like when you see those pictures of your brain?

Emmett Waite: It's weird. I don't really get it, but it's cool.

Stefanie says she was always interested in childhood development, and seeing her son's brain change through the years. "For me, it's fascinating because you can see so many physical changes in the brain, and of course we don't really know what they mean," Stefanie said. "It'll be really interesting to see what they find.

"They" are a group of researchers nationwide.

The Waites are one of 577 families in this region among 12,000 nationwide that will be studied for the next 10 years.

"It's such an exciting opportunity. A study of this scale has never been done," said Alexandra Potter, one of the researchers at the University of Vermont who's working on the study called "ABCD."

Nine and 10-year-old boys and girls around the country were enrolled in the study. Researchers will do brain imaging, interviews, and questionnaires with the families for years. The end result will be an unheard of body of data that could help create a picture of what happens to the brain when your child grows up.

"We have no good metrics for what normal brain development looks like, and I like to use the analogy -- if you go to the pediatrician's office, they'll have a height and weight chart and you can see the growth of a child. We have no idea what that looks like for a brain. We have no idea what's normal and what isn't" Potter said.

And it could also help answer tough questions including what impact screen time has on children's brain development, how early signs of mental illness appear, what impacts medications might have on developing brains, and what makes kids resilient through tough times.

They are questions mothers like Stefanie Waite are curious to know the answers to. "Our participation can hopefully contribute to a vast body of knowledge that doctors and other smart people can use for a long time," she said.

Enrollment for the study has closed so they are not taking any new participants.