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Tracking kids' brains over 10 years, OHSU launching new development study

What if a brain scan could help shape what kind of student your kid can be? Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University are about to start a 10-year study to track how kids' brains develop over time.

KATU News spoke with Ermias Fair, who goes by "E," as he was getting prepped for an MRI. Eleven-year-old E was getting his brain scanned to help researchers at OHSU fine-tune a study on brain development in kids.

"It's really this amazing initiative to understand how the brain works and how development happens over the course of 10 years," Dr. Sarah Feldstein Ewing, a professor of Psychiatry at OHSU, said.

It's called "ABCD," which stands for Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development. It will be the largest long-term study of child brain development in the country. Researchers nationwide are enrolling 10,000 kids, and about 550 locally.

"We'll have our hands on lots and lots of data from lots of different kids of different demographics and cultural backgrounds," Dr. Damien Fair, an OHSU Neuroscientist, explained.

Researchers will interview 9- and 10-year-old children several times a year for a period of 10 years. They'll also scan the brain every two years, tracking biological and behavioral development.

"How do sports injuries affect the brain and how does the brain change over development, and how do different things alter the course of development over time?" Dr. Feldstein Ewing said of the questions they hope to answer.

"See, at that period of time, (we'll see) what aspects may lead to atypical trajectories in certain kids versus others that may lead to poor school performance or things where we can intervene much earlier," explained Dr. Fair.

Kids will talk to researchers confidentially -- without their parents -- about what they're doing for activities, about feelings, their thoughts. How they're living their life -- good or bad. E says the MRI is as easy as, well, A, B, C, D -- you just have to be still.

"It's actually pretty fun and you get to watch movies when you're in there," E said.

E's not eligible for ABCD, and his dad is one of the lead researchers, but he's happy to help set it up for success.

Informational packets are going out to families throughout the Portland metro area. If you're interested in learning more about ABCD, click here.

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