Newsletter Article

Faculty Research Spotlight

This year, our faculty were successful in securing a number of grants to fund their research activities, from both the federal sources such as NIH and NSF, as well as private foundation awards. Three are highlighted below.

 Kate McLaughlin, who came to UW from Harvard in the fall of 2013, received an award from the National Institute of Mental Health that will help us understand how violence exposure impacts brain development in children. Specifically, she will look at the influence of child maltreatment on neural structure, including cortical thickness and white matter microstructure, and neural function in Negative Valence Systems, including function and connectivity of the prefrontal cortex and amygdala. She will recruit a sample of 8-16 year olds, half with exposure to child maltreatment or domestic violence and half without, and collect structural and functional MRI data from them. Elucidating these mechanisms will not only build knowledge of how adverse environments alter neural development in ways that might increase risk for psychopathology, but will also suggest possible targets for preventive interventions aimed at reducing psychopathology risk in children exposed to trauma. Dr. McLaughlin’s award follows her widely publicized study of adolescents following the Boston Marathon bombings. She showed that data collected before the attacks on how their brains generally responded to negative emotional stimuli was related to the likelihood of their development symptoms of post-traumatic distress afterward. To learn more about Dr. McLaughlin's work, click here.

Husband and wife team, Andrea Stocco and Chantel Prat, working with colleague Rajesh Rao in Computer Science and Engineering, received a $1 million W.M. Keck Foundation. Their work will build on exciting preliminary data showing how one person’s brain can control another person’s hand motions – with information sent over the Internet from anywhere else in the world. The goal of their project is to refine the methods and science involved in these so-called brain-to-brain interfacing paradigms, increasing the complexity of information that can be transferred from one human brain to another and bringing technology closer to actual applications. Their innovative work will be the first to involve the full arc of information transmission from one brain to another (not merely decoding motor information and translating it into machine action) and will rely entirely on non-invasive techniques which are completely safe for humans. Results could lead to novel learning strategies such as “brain tutoring” in which knowledge is transferred directly from the teacher’s to the learner’s brain. Learn more about their work here and here.

Wendy Stone, a leading expert in Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), received a $3.9 Million award from NIMH this spring. Dr. Stone’s research project addresses the problems of late diagnosis and treatment for young children with ASD: although caregiver concerns often arise by 17-19 months, the average age at which a child receives an ASD diagnosis is 4½ years.  The gap is larger in Hispanic than non-Hispanic families. During this delay, children miss out on early ASD-specialized intervention, which can lead to significant gains in children’s social, communication, cognitive, and behavioral skills. The new research project proposes an alternative service delivery model – the “Screen-Refer-Treat” (SRT) model – that promotes an integrated system of early detection and preventive intervention embedded within communities. A trial within four diverse communities across Washington State will aim to show changes in provider knowledge, screening, referral, and intervention practices as well as caregiver reports of their own well-being, service satisfaction, and their child’s behavior following implementation of the SRT model. Here is more information about Dr. Stone's work.