NIH funds new direction for project's research

The National Institute of Mental Health will tap into the vast neurobehavioral data amassed by the Oswego Children’s Study to learn more about the adolescent brain and how it develops.

Under the direction of Paul Stewart, researchers at SUNY Oswego’s Center for Neurobehavioral Effects of Environmental Toxics, home of the Oswego Children’s Study, have received a three-year, $905,277 grant from the National Institutes of Health for the project.

Working with them will be Dr. Jay Giedd, chief of brain imaging at the Child Psychiatry Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md. He is a frequent national and international lecturer on pediatric neuropsychiatry and has been an active spokesperson for increased research in children and teens, speaking at the White House and on radio and television talk shows.

“He is an internationally recognized expert on brain development in adolescents,” Stewart said.

Stewart’s co-investigators in Oswego are four of his colleagues in the college’s psychology department: Edward Lonky, Jacqueline Reihman, Thomas Darvill and Brooks Gump.

The Oswego Children’s Study has collected wide-ranging data on more than 200 children from before they were born to their present early adolescence in a study that began with the purpose of studying the subtle neurobehavioral effects of prenatal exposure to environmental pollutants, including polychlorinated biphenyls and mercury.

“With this grant, the Oswego project moves in an important new direction, that being the uncovering of biological mechanisms underlying these effects,” Lonky said.

Over the next three years, the Oswego researchers will work with Advanced Medical Imaging in Fulton to perform MRI scans of the prefrontal cortex area of the brain in all the children enrolled in their study. The scans will go to Giedd, who will conduct structural analyses of the brain images.

“The prefrontal cortex allows us to anticipate the consequences of our actions. It allows us to think ahead, rather than just react to the moment. It’s what allows us to plan our day, to plan for the future,” Stewart said.

A smaller study has indicated that the larger and better developed this area of the brain is, the better the ability of the individual to plan, control behavior and delay gratification by choosing a larger reward in the future rather than a smaller reward right now, he said.

“We will be the first study that has this many kids and that has data going back to when they were born,” he said. “We have over 200 children and 15 years of data.”

Not only will the new study be able to correlate the level of frontal lobe development with measures of the 14-year-olds’ self-control, but it will also be able to correlate the level of brain development at age 14 with a host of variables going back through each child’s lifetime, variables like early home environment, nutrition and exposure to PCBs, Stewart explained.

“This is a very different study than anything we’ve done before,” he said. “It opens up all sorts of new possibilities for the project and for future research.”

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(Posted: Oct 19, 2005)