Thanks to a grant of $8,950,590 provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), researchers at the University of California San Diego looking for the biological bases of differences in human behavior will use sophisticated gene-mapping tools and imaging technology to collect a wealth of data about brain development in children.
The grant was awarded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The study, called PING (for pediatric imaging, neurocognition and genetics), represents one of NIDA's signature projects. The UCSD-based project, which involves 10 sites throughout the country, is expected to create approximately 25 new jobs.
The project will be coordinated within UCSD's Center for Human Development (CHD), and the advanced neuroimaging work of the project will be based in the MultiModal Imaging Laboratory. Faculty from at least seven different UC San Diego departments will participate in the project, a testament to the growth and importance of interdisciplinary research, according to Vice Chancellor for Research Arthur B. Ellis.
"This very significant award — one of the largest single ARRA awards that UC San Diego has received to date — recognizes the vital, life-saving research being conducted at the CHD, an interdisciplinary Organized Research Unit, and makes possible swift advances in the pediatric brain-imaging and genomics projects so important to families in California and across America," Ellis said.
UC San Diego professors Terry Jernigan and Anders Dale are the project's leaders; professors Linda Chang and Thomas Ernst at the University of Hawaii, and Sarah Murray of Scripps Genomics lead other components of the project.
Since it is known that structural and functional connectivity in the brain undergoes continuous remodeling during childhood, the investigators have chosen to study 1,400 children between the ages of 3 and 20. This will make it possible to search for links between genetic variation and developing patterns of brain connectivity, and to examine the implications for emerging personality and mental abilities.
Investigators interested in the effects of a particular gene will be able to search the database for any brain areas or connections between areas that differ as a function of variation in a particular gene, and to determine if the genes appear to affect the course of brain development at some point during childhood.
The scientists will also be looking for links to the developing behavior of the children. The investigators plan to gather data on many aspects of human brain architecture, including the patterns of connection between brain regions, using different types of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
All the information contained in the database will be stripped of personal identifiers and codified so as to preserve the privacy of participating individuals.
Families who may want to participate in the study, or others who want to know more about it, may e-mail questions to PING@ucsd.edu.
— UCSD Press Release