Children’s Brain Health Research
Events in the brain that occur during development, from in utero through childhood and adolescence, shape thoughts, emotions, and behaviour in adulthood. Therefore, to better understand mental health difficulties and to improve treatments for mental health conditions, it is important to study the developing brain. The Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience binds together several research programmes connecting fundamental, clinical and translational studies of children’s brain health.
Scope of research
Intensive collaborative research focuses on the genetics, biology and mechanisms of childhood psychosis, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, depression and substance abuse. This includes work with developing human patient cohorts as well as translational efforts using animal and cellular models, and are led by a number of clinician scientists, including Louise Gallagher, Mary Cannon, Jane McGrath, Veronica O’Keane and Declan McLoughlin as well as cognitive neuroscientists and neurophysiologists, including Clare Kelly, Claire Gillan, Arun Bokde and Robert Whelan.
In TCIN, these programmes intersect with bottom up approaches driven by non-clinical PIs. For example, Rhodri Cusack’s group leads a major initiative using brain imaging and artificial intelligence to characterise the emergence of cognition, with strong clinical collaborations. Arun Bokde and Robert Whelan are principal investigators on a longitudinal neuroimaging study of development (IMAGEN) that is following a cohort of over 2,000 individuals from early adolescence. Jane McGrath and Robert Whelan are establishing a longitudinal cohort of children (beginning at age 10) with a diagnosis of ADHD. The groups of Andrew Harkin, Shane O'Mara and Marina Lynch are analyzing biochemical, cognitive and behavioural mechanisms and markers altered in depression, stress, and autism in collaboration with clinical PIs Veronica O’Keane & Declan McLoughlin and neuroimunology PIs Kingston Mills & Colm Cunningham. At an even more basic level, groups are analysing processes of direct relevance to children’s health. Mani Ramaswami’s group is analysing the mechanisms that form inhibitory masks for familiar stimuli and consolidated memories may be relevant to phenomena such as stimulus hypersensitivity, novelty aversion and intrusive memory sometime seem in autism and other psychiatric disorders. Tomas Ryan’s group manipulates memory engram cells during development, to separate and analyse memory storage and recall processes in mice, which has direct relevance to our understanding of the phenomenon of infantile amnesia.
More generally, TCIN houses broad expertise and interest in understanding, measuring and manipulating neural processes ranging from sensory perception and motor coordination, to arousal, attention and decision making (Fiona Newell, Redmond O’Connell, Paul Dockree, Sven Vanneste, Richard Reilly, Ed Lalor), with a particularly strong focus on childhood vision and blindness (Sarah Doyle, Jane Farrar, Matthew Campbell). These strengths in sensory and cognitive psychology as well as neural engineering support diverse approaches to understanding and managing sensory, cognitive and motor capabilities in children.