Measuring Changes in Functional Brain Activity with fNIRS
John Spencer of the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom along with Sean Deoni of the University of Colorado in the U.S. are assessing the trajectory of brain development during the first two years of age using a range of imaging, physiological and behavioral assessment tools to understand how development is affected by environmental factors such as nutrition, stress, and parent-child interaction. In their Phase I project, Spencer and colleagues (while at the University of Iowa in the U.S.) used a neuroimaging technology – functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) – to localize brain activity during a preferential looking task as a representation of visual working memory in children between four months and four years of age. They used this data to create a developmental trajectory for this visual working memory task and the underlying functional brain network. Sean Deoni and colleagues in their Phase I project (while at Brown University in the U.S.) used MRI to characterize developmental trajectories of myelination in healthy infants and young children to understand the relationship between myelination and cognitive ability. In Phase II, these two research groups will partner together along with an organization in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India, and use the same methods to assess functional brain development over the first two years of age in two cohorts from different socioeconomic-educational settings starting at six and nine months of age. They will also analyze the effects of various factors such as sleep and nutrition on brain development. In addition, they will develop and test a new tablet-based application for larger-scale studies by untrained assessors in the field, and identify tailored approaches for parents to help them promote healthy cognitive development in their children.