Child & Brain Development
The Child & Brain Development program examines the effect of the early environment on the lifelong trajectory going from childhood to old age of physical, mental and social health and wellbeing. Over the past decade, program members including biologists, psychologists, and medical doctors have transformed our understanding of the interplay between nature and nurture, and discovered important insights into the biological underpinnings of our early childhood experiences.
RESEARCH AND SOCIETAL IMPACT HIGHLIGHTS
Understanding why we can't remember our infancy
Infantile amnesia, or the inability to recall events from the first years of our lives, is a universal phenomenon, yet the mechanisms underlying this natural form of forgetting, and the triggers for it, remain poorly understood. CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar Tomás Ryan (Trinity College Dublin) and Fellow Paul Frankland (The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto) have previously collaborated on theoretical work in this area. Now, through a CIFAR Catalyst Fund project, their labs are teaming up to investigate differences in the development of memory engrams (the physical changes that take place in a brain for specific memories to be stored) in infants. In addition to expanding our understanding of infantile amnesia, this research could also provide insights into disease states that involve memory loss.
Addressing unexplored questions about the pandemic’s impact on child development
CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars Samuel Urlacher (Baylor University) and Allyson Mackey (University of Pennsylvania), together with Program Co-Director Thomas McDade (Northwestern University) are investigating pathways linking inactivity, adrenarche, and brain development among disadvantaged children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using brain imaging and stable isotope measurement of daily energy expenditure, along with biomarker methods, their goal is to understand child development and health during the pandemic.
A new algorithm predicts morbidity and mortality
Fellows Daniel Belsky (Columbia University) and Michael Kobor (University of British Columbia) worked with other program members to develop a novel technique to quantify the pace of biological aging from a blood sample using chemical tags on the DNA sequence known as methylation marks. Their analysis distilled a complex set of physiological changes observed over 20 years of longitudinal follow-up into an algorithm that can be applied to genomic data from a blood test. This algorithm, when applied in other studies, is predictive of morbidity and mortality and detects histories of early adversity.
Understanding the connection between early life adversity and adulthood
CIFAR and MacArthur Fellow Jenny Tung (Duke University) was awarded a US National Institutes of Health Project Grant to investigate whether the relationship between early life adversity and later life outcomes is mediated through early adversity-specific changes in DNA methylation patterns — a chemical addition to DNA sequence that influences when, how, and to what degree genes are active. The project involved samples collected from a baboon population in Kenya. The genomic data were complemented by long-term observations from early life to adulthood. The team found that some, but not all, forms of early life adversity leave biological “signatures” in the genome that are still detectable in adulthood.
Path to Societal Impact
We invite experts in industry, civil society, healthcare and government to join fellows in our Child & Brain Development program for in-depth, cross-sectoral conversations that drive change and innovation.
Public policy leaders in early childhood and health and CIFAR fellows in the Child & Brain Development program are developing effective public policies and intervention programs that address health disparities and improve children’s development, health, and well-being.
Areas of focus:
- Examining the compounding effects of multiple early adversities on children
- Exploring opportunities for effective policy interventions
- Ensuring intervention programs are tailored to the needs of diverse communities
2007, 2012, 2019
Genome British Columbia
Developmental, molecular and evolutionary biology
Cognitive and developmental neuroscience
Biological, cognitive and developmental psychology
Fellows & Advisors
CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars
How the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the physical and mental health of childrenNovember 10, 2021
Research transforms how we think about early life experiencesSeptember 24, 2020
Child & Brain Development
, CIFAR convened a roundtable to explore our understanding of the impact of multiple early adversities on child developm...July 05, 2019
In their lab at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, CIFAR fellows and neuroscientists Sheena Josselyn and Paul Frankla...May 22, 2019
AI and Society
A CIFAR-led AI & Society workshop will explore how AI could shape the development of childrenApril 30, 2019
Some kids are resilient, others more sensitive. But sensitive orchids can excel in the right environment, says CIFAR fel...March 11, 2019
CIFAR is a registered charitable organization supported by the governments of Canada, Alberta and Quebec, as well as foundations, individuals, corporations and Canadian and international partner organizations.