Sunday, July 22, 2018
Health

Researchers explore how activities affect brain development in kids

Baltimore Sun (TNS)

BALTIMORE — Parents wondering how video games, athletic pursuits or sleeping habits could affect their kids’ brains may get some answers, thanks to a massive effort under way at 21 institutions across the country.

Researchers are recruiting 11,500 kids ages 9 or 10 to participate in the largest study of its kind on the affects — good and bad — of myriad activities on adolescent brain development. They plan to create a giant database available to researchers everywhere that could inform everything from public policy to education to parenting.

"This will answer so many questions about brain development," said Dr. Linda Chang, a neurologist and co-lead investigator heading a team of more than a dozen people at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, which is among the participating institutions and plans to recruit close to 600 kids. "We’ll see, for example, if children who sleep less than six hours a night have their memories affected or if those who do drugs have trouble paying attention in school."

Some of the questions have been asked before, and this database can be used not only to confirm or refute previous findings but to drill down on differences among urban and suburban children or those of different ethnicities, genders or income levels, Chang said. That could lead to changes in public health policy or methods of educating students with different backgrounds, for example.

The children will answer questions, provide saliva samples to measure hormone levels and submit for MRI scanning of their brains over the next decade. The data will be available to any scientist around the world who wants to use it.

Chang, a professor in the department of diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine and the department of neurology, has some questions of her own. She has studied the affect of drugs used by pregnant women on their children and plans to use the database to reaffirm her findings and go a bit further. The children in this study will be 19 or 20 when the data collection stops.

Known as the ABCD Study, for Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development, the $300 million effort is funded by several federal agencies within the National Institutes of Health, as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Justice, with support from the institutions from which children are being recruited.

Christine C. Cloak, the study’s site coordinator, has been recruiting students through schools in Baltimore and surrounding counties, mainly by passing out fliers. She said going through schools ensures a broad spectrum of children participate. There are a few restrictions, such as certain brain conditions or braces that are metal and can’t be put in an MRI machine, which relies on magnets.

Recruitment began in 2016 and enrollment ends at year’s end. At Maryland, about 300 children already have joined the study and researchers hope to get up to 300 more signed up before the end of summer.

Lisa Tanner, a Laurel, Md., mother, saw a flier sent home from school about the ABCD Study. She said she was excited about the possibilities for science.

"You read about this study or that study and wonder where it is happening and who are these real people," said Tanner, who signed up her 9-year-old son, Alex, and 10-year-old daughter, Rachel.

She wanted her kids to be those real people and see how such studies are conducted. The $350 stipend per child per visit was a bonus. The money will go into the kids’ college funds, Tanner said, or perhaps help pay for art school or other endeavors.

In her first trip to Maryland, Tanner thought her answers would be the same for both children: Parents and kids both answer the hundreds of questions on the questionnaire. Both kids said they are big readers. But Rachel loves art and writing, too. Alex is into karate, Ninja Warrior and make-believe adventures, meaning they spend more time on different activities than their mother previously thought.

For her part, Rachel said the MRI image of her brain was "interesting" and wondered what it would look like over time.

"Twenty is kind of a big number for me," she said of how old she’ll be when the study concludes.

Alex also was not so sure what he’d be like in 10 years.

"I don’t think I can predict," he said.

Researchers, too, will be interested in what becomes of his brain over the next decade. Chang said they will see how reading, screen time, video game playing, sports, drugs, coffee and any number of other things will influence their development.

"Does playing a musical instrument have a positive effect?" Chang said. "What about a lack of sleep? We’re going to find out."

The children and parents will not be asked to change any behavior, just to report their actions. (To ensure truthfulness, children won’t have to tell their parents about their activities such as drug use or sexual encounters.)

Chang said the idea behind starting with 9- and 10-year-olds is to get them before they launch too heavily into drug experimentation or other more grown-up changes. The children get a psychological screening, and Chang said the families of those who expressed depressive thoughts were referred for services. Imaging staff identified brain tumors on the MRIs of two other children and they were sent for follow-up care.

But mostly, the questions and brain images are recorded and loaded into the NIH-minded database and updated annually. Researchers will call the families every six months to keep in contact and make sure they remain willing to participate.

About 7,500 kids have been enrolled nationally so far, and the NIH released the first data in mid February on about 4,500 of them. The 30 terabytes of data is about three times the size of the Library of Congress’ collection, according to the NIH.

"Sharing ABCD data and other related data sets with the research community, in an infrastructure that allows easy query, data access and cloud computation, will help us understand many aspects of health and human development." Dr. Joshua A. Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said at the time the collection was released. "These data sets provide extraordinary opportunities for computational neuroscientists to address problems with direct public health relevance."

Comments
When suicide threats come calling: ‘I try to make a connection.’

When suicide threats come calling: ‘I try to make a connection.’

TAMPA — At first glance, it’s a typical office with more than a dozen cubicles under florescent lights. The operators wear headsets and stare into computer screens, some tinkering with handheld toys, others browsing Facebook or chatting with colleagu...
Published: 07/20/18
In the few weeks before school starts, experts offer tips on getting ready mentally and physically

In the few weeks before school starts, experts offer tips on getting ready mentally and physically

By the second week of August, public schools will be back in session across the Tampa Bay area. That may seem far off, but sleep experts say now is when parents need to start easing the kids (and themselves) into those early wakeup routines. The foll...
Published: 07/20/18
Sarasota man dies from infectious bacteria after eating raw oysters

Sarasota man dies from infectious bacteria after eating raw oysters

A Sarasota man died of an infectious bacteria after eating raw oysters.The bacteria, called Vibrio vulnificus, is often associated with eating raw or under-cooked shellfish or entering into warm coastal waters with exposed wounds.The 71-year-old Sara...
Published: 07/18/18
Updated: 07/19/18
Soy, almond ‘milk’ don’t come from a cow, so they may soon be called ‘drinks’

Soy, almond ‘milk’ don’t come from a cow, so they may soon be called ‘drinks’

NEW YORK — Soy and almond drinks don’t come from cows, so regulators may soon ask them to stop calling themselves "milk." The Food and Drug Administration is signaling that it plans to start enforcing a federal standard that defines "milk" as coming ...
Published: 07/18/18
Florida nursing homes have enough staff, numbers show. But the state has shortages in other areas.

Florida nursing homes have enough staff, numbers show. But the state has shortages in other areas.

In most places across America, nursing homes are facing an acute shortage of workers to take care of the country’s growing population of aging and disabled patients. But not in Florida. A Kaiser Family Foundation report published this month found tha...
Published: 07/17/18
So far, so good. Doctors at Tampa General find success with a device that fights often-fatal aneurysms

So far, so good. Doctors at Tampa General find success with a device that fights often-fatal aneurysms

TAMPA — Dr. Murray Shames holds a flexible, lightweight tube as wide as two garden hoses pushed together in his office at Tampa General Hospital. The polyester tube, and its thinner fastening branches with metal wiring, will be attached inside someon...
Published: 07/13/18
Updated: 07/16/18
Sunday Conversation: Sherry Hoback looks to move Tampa Family Health Centers to the next level

Sunday Conversation: Sherry Hoback looks to move Tampa Family Health Centers to the next level

TAMPA — Taking over for an administrator who has run a company for almost 20 years can be daunting. • But Sherry Hoback prepared for some time to replace Charles Bottoms as CEO of the Tampa Family Health Centers, a non-profit organization that operat...
Published: 07/12/18
Updated: 07/15/18
How can City Hall improve our health? A new push in Pinellas hopes to show the way.

How can City Hall improve our health? A new push in Pinellas hopes to show the way.

The charitable organization that owns a 20 percent stake in St. Petersburg’s Bayfront Health hospital is working with local governments to improve the public’s health, part of a strategy to make a difference in new and often subtle ways. The Foundati...
Published: 07/11/18
Updated: 07/12/18
New York organ collection agency, nation’s second-largest, threatened with closure

New York organ collection agency, nation’s second-largest, threatened with closure

The government is threatening to close one of the country’s largest "organ procurement organizations" for poor performance, a rare move against a nonprofit group that collects kidneys, livers, hearts and other organs used in transplantation.In a lett...
Published: 07/11/18
Retirement communities turn their sights on a once-invisible group: LGBT seniors

Retirement communities turn their sights on a once-invisible group: LGBT seniors

In 2016, as Kenneth MacLean was about to turn 90 and was looking to move to a retirement community, he had a question for Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg, Maryland."I asked, ‘Would there be many gays here? Would gays be welcomed?’ " MacLean,...
Published: 07/09/18