19 June 2008

Jane Herbert awarded two-year grant for premature infant cognitive development project

Congratulations to Jane Herbert on winning a two-year £30,000 grant from Sheffield Hospitals Charitable Trust for a project entitled "Early cognitive development in full-term and premature infants." Jane's Co-PI on the project is Elspeth Whitby (Academic Radiology) and co-applicants from Psychology are Oli Pascalis and Rod Nicolson. A project summary is below:

Project summary

The current investigation focuses on the cognitive development of children born very prematurely, a population at high risk for abnormalities in early brain development. Clinical studies suggest that the hippocampus, cerebellum, and prefrontal cortex, critically associated with learning and memory, are negatively affected by premature birth. Our goals are 1) to understand the extent to which these children differ in basic learning and memory processes and 2) to develop hypotheses about the more specific biological differences related to these cognitive outcomes.

The current project follows up an on-going MRI investigation in the Jessops maternity hospital which scans neonates born before 35 weeks gestation and includes a developmental assessment at 18 months of age using the Bayley Scale. To determine the relationship between preterm birth, brain development, and cognitive outcome, the current study will compare the cognitive performance of these infants on established memory tasks (deferred imitation and visual preference procedures) and on language and motor assessments at 9- and 18-months of age. After the behavioural data has been collected at both ages we will then compare performance on these tasks with the information obtained from the MRI images about the volume of the hippocampus and cerebellar structures.

The combination of the proposed study and on-going investigations will provide important information about the correlation between brain volume of hippocampus and cerebellar structures and performance on tasks that assess hippocampal and cerebellar function during infancy. This body of information will provide a comprehensive account of early cognitive development and may identify potential factors responsible for individual differences resulting from premature birth.