Alan C. Evans, Ph.D.
SUMMARY: Little data on normal brain function and development exists to compare with data from patients with neuropsychiatric disorders. Such norms are also lacking for brain imaging studies, leading to noncomparable findings and excessive duplication in scanning control subjects. NIDA, NIMH, NICHD, and NINDS are co-sponsoring a $28 million initiative using aMRI (anatomic magnetic resonance imaging), DTI, and MRS to create the world's first large-scale database on normal brain development in children. This initiative is the NIH MRI Study of Normal Brain Development.
Dr. Alan Evans explained that the study is working with seven major research centers to scan the brains of more than 500 infants, children, and adolescents, and catalog normal structural development by age and sex. Children ages 5 and older will receive additional scans and clinical and behavioral reassessments at 2-year intervals. Younger children are being re-scanned more frequently—at 3- to 12-month intervals—to capture more rapid brain maturation changes occurring at these ages.
Evans discussed how the study will chart normal growth curves of brain structures, revealing the development of circuitry for language, thinking, and other functions and allowing scientists a much more detailed view of developmental changes. By comparing scans of children with neuropsychiatric disorders with this normative data, researchers will be able to determine the timing and developmental course of brain structure changes in childhood disorders. Imaging and extensive clinical/behavioral data are being transferred to a database that will ultimately facilitate early diagnosis and differentiation of various disorders, and speed up the development of targeted treatments and evaluations of their effects.