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Florida Launches Landmark Study of Adolescent Brain Development

The University of Florida and 18 partnering institutions have launched the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States.

Recruitment of more than 10,000 children — including about 400 in the Gainesville region — is now underway for the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development, or ABCD, study. The landmark study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will follow the biological and behavioral development of children beginning at ages 9 and 10 through adolescence and into early adulthood. Recruitment will be carried out over a two-year period through partnerships with public and private schools near the research sites.

Researchers are targeting specific elementary schools within specific geographic regions to ensure a nationally representative sample, said Dr. Sara Jo Nixon, co-principal investigator at the UF Health site with Dr. Linda B. Cottler, chair of UF’s department of epidemiology in the College of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Medicine. UF’s part of the study is supported by a $3.76 million grant from the NIH.

Scientists will use advanced brain imaging, interviews and behavioral testing to determine how childhood experiences interact with each other and with a child’s changing biology to affect brain development and — ultimately — social, behavioral, academic, health and other outcomes.

Researchers will examine how varied adolescent experiences (i.e., participation in extracurricular activities; playing video games; sleep habits; head injuries from sports; experimentation with alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other substances) affect development. This is particularly relevant in today’s rapidly changing world, which is now dominated by social media and other forms of communication in which adolescents readily engage.

The ABCD study is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Cancer Institute, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the NIH Office of  Behavioral and Social Sciences Research and the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.