Largest long-term study of adolescent brain development to continue at URMC

Apr. 17, 2020

The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) will continue play a leading role in the largest long-term study of brain development and child health. The National Institutes of Health has renewed its support to the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study at URMC, allocating $7.5-million to the study for the next seven years.

Research talks to participant before giving an MRI.

“We are immensely proud of the part that the University of Rochester plays in the ABCD study,” John Foxe, Ph.D., director of the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience said. “That children here in Rochester are part of a major national study, and are contributing to our knowledge of brain development is really fantastic and gives the Rochester community a voice in how national health policy is developed over the coming decade.”

Through 2026, URMC will continue to collect data on the 340 local participants. The Medical Center joined the study in 2017 and is one of 21-sites across the country. In all, the study is following 11,750 children through early adulthood looking at how biological development, behaviors, and experiences impact brain maturation and other aspects of their lives, including academic achievement, social development, and overall health.

Local school districts have been instrumental in garnering research participants. "Webster CSD is pleased to continue its support of the landmark ABCD Study being conducted here in Rochester and across the country,” said Webster CSD Superintendent of Schools Carmen Gumina. “The Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience continues to be at the forefront of dynamic research projects like ABCD that provide enhanced understanding of adolescent brain development. As educators, we are grateful for this continued study that will certainly make a difference in the health and well-being of our students."

"I'm thrilled to learn that URMC’s work with the ABCD study will continue to reveal how our community's most valuable asset, our young people, develop,” said Norma Holland, member of the ABCD Study Community Liaison Board and Director of Community Development for Digital Hyve. “Research, working to understand the social, emotional and physical development of our youth, will guide policy for years to come. The study will yield invaluable data. And the true value, is how we can learn to be better parents, teachers, and mentors." 

The data from the study – broken down into the subcategories of sex, racial/ethnic group, and socioeconomic status – has, to date, yielded 32 research papers. These analyses have led to a better understanding of the association between certain traits and experiences in adolescence (e.g., sleep, body mass index, family conflict, screen time) and brain physiology and other outcomes, such as cognitive ability and mental illness (e.g., depression and suicide).

“The next phase of the ABCD study will help us understand the effects of substance use, as well as environmental, social, genetic, and other biological factors on the developing adolescent brain,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. “Since the participants are now in their vulnerable middle school years or are beginning high school, this is a critical time to learn more about what enhances or disrupts a young person’s life trajectory.”

The ABCD Study, like many other research projects, is adapting to the restrictions necessary to address COVID-19. Scientists will conduct virtual assessments as long as needed so that valuable data will not be lost, and participant health and safety will be ensured.