The Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBI) is dedicated to studying how the brain and behavior change over time and in response to different illnesses. We study children and young adults with many different kinds of diagnoses, including people without any diagnosis at all. This collaboration between the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania bridges the gap between pediatric and adult research, making it possible for researchers to begin studying participants at a young age and to continue to follow them into adulthood. With this lifespan approach, researchers are able to study what early risk factors might contribute to the development of mental disorders, what factors might protect children from developing mental disorders or help them cope more effectively, and how illness affects the brain and behavior over time. By focusing our research in these areas, the Lifespan Brain Institute hopes to help improve treatment options and outcomes for both patients and their families.
We work closely with the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at CHOP ( http://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/child-and-adolescent-psychiatry-and-behavioral-sciences ) to conduct our research with children, young adults, and their families, and work very closely with the Brain Behavior Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine Neuropsychiatry Section ( http://www.med.upenn.edu/bbl/ ) to conduct our research with adults.
Our Areas of Research
Psychosis Prevention Program
The Psychosis Prevention Program at CHOP, led by Dr. Jerome Taylor, aims to develop interventions to prevent psychotic disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder with psychotic features in youth with elevated psychosis risk. While the biological mechanisms of emerging psychosis remain unknown, our research program focuses on the mechanisms of oxidative stress, neuroinflammation, and circadian rhythm.
Led by Dr. Ran Barzilay, BarziLab strives to understand what drives variability in the development of brain and behavior in children and adolescents who develop under stress. We are especially interested in elucidating mechanisms of risk and resilience leading to youth suicidal behavior. Using large datasets of youth who have been genotyped and deeply phenotyped, we study how a myriad of environmental exposures (such as trauma and poverty) dynamically interact amongst themselves (i.e., exposome), as well as with biological factors (genetic, epigenetic, immune) to drive suicidal behavior. We are committed to conduct impactful translational science that will help reduce teen suicide.
The BBL Brain Imaging Lab is a research unit in the Neurodevelopment and Psychosis section of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania which includes the Neuroimaging and Cognitive Core (NICC) and the Lifespan Informatics and Neuroimaging Center. The primary mission of the lab is to better understand the pathophysiology of brain dysfunction, particularly in neuropsychiatric and aging populations, by utilizing advanced neuroimaging and psychophysical testing to evaluate brain-behavior associations. The ultimate goal of the BBL Brain Imaging Lab is to use multi-modal cognitive neuroscientific approaches to facilitate early identification of individuals at-risk for neuropsychiatric or neurodegenerative disease.
Led by Dr. Aaron Alexander-Bloch, the Brain-Gene-Development Lab investigates normal brain development and the altered developmental trajectories that lead to mental illness, using a multi-disciplinary approach that integrates brain imaging, genomics and clinical information. The lab’s goal is to translate the highly polygenic risk for psychosis and other neurodevelopmental psychiatric disorders into pathophysiologic mechanisms, to inform therapeutic targets and improve risk assessment. Some current projects include: 1) Developing lifespan brain growth charts of MRI morphological features (n>100,000 scans). 2) Investigating the influence of copy number variants and polygenic risk on brain development and psychiatric risk, in large open datasets. 3) Integrating clinically-acquired brain MRI at CHOP and with natural language processing of the electronic health record.
IGNITE (Intergenerational Exposome Program)
The Neurodevelopment Section (IGNITE), a collaboration between Penn OBGYN and the Lifespan Brain Institute, aims to understand the influence that multiple domains of the exposome have on developmental trajectories, with a particular focus on early development. The IGNITE team is currently conducting a longitudinal study of pregnant individuals, following the both the parent and child over time to understand how the exposome shapes social and emotional development. The Neurodevelopment section uses a risk and resilience framework to capture the factors and processes that increase or protect against maladaptive developmental outcomes.
22q11.2 and Other Rare Copy Number Variant Research
In collaboration with CHOP’s 22q and You Center and others, LiBI conducts research 22q11.2 deletion syndrome and other rare copy number variants to better understand what causes the disorders, how to improve the lives of children and families affected by it, and how to help doctors identify and intervene as early as possible. Through these efforts, LiBI researchers hope to find a way to treat or even prevent these genetic disorders in the future.
Genetic and Epigenetic Research
In collaboration with Dr. Laura Almasy and others, LiBI conducts genetic and epigenetic research. Research on genetics can help identify what genes may be risk factors for developing mental health and other disorders and may also help identify a way to prevent or treat those disorders. Research on epigenetics, the study of how behaviors and environments can change gene expression without changing the actual DNA sequence, can increase our understanding of environmental factors and how they can either pose a risk to developing mental health disorders or help protect against developing mental health disorders.
Bench Science and Animal Models
Dr. Stewart Anderson’s lab conducts research on molecular and cellular mechanisms that govern the development of the mammalian forebrain in relation to neuropsychiatric disease. His lab studies the development of the cerebral cortex via the use of mouse genetics, forebrain slice and dissociated culture techniques, and mouse and human embryonic stem cells in cell culture and transplantation experiments. His research also includes studies on mitochondrial deficits in iPS derived neurons from patients with schizophrenia and the 22q11 deletion syndrome.
The research we conduct at the Lifespan Brain Institute aims to better understand:
- How the brain functions and develops, in both healthy people and those with brain disorders
- How different illnesses affect the brain
- Early identification and treatment of mental illnesses
- Risk and protective factors for developing mental illnesses
About Our Studies
No matter which study you participate in, we appreciate your help tremendously! Our research wouldn't be possible without people like you, and we wouldn't be able to help doctors learn new and better ways to help their patients, so THANK YOU!
The Lifespan Brain Institute is involved in many different kinds of research, and we will be conducting more and more studies as time goes on. Even though each study will be different, they will all have the following things in common:
- We will always compensate you for your time and effort!
- Any information we collect is strictly confidential.
- At the beginning of each study visit, we will ask you to sign a consent form. The consent form describes the study procedures in detail, and you sign it to say you understand the study procedures and agree to participate in the research. It is not a legally binding document, so you can change your mind and take back your consent at any time. Signing the consent never means you have to do anything you don't want to do.
- Your participation is completely voluntary. You always have complete control over what you do, or decide you don't want to do.
- Any information we collect is for research use only.
- Whether you decide to participate in a research study or not, it will never affect the medical care you're receiving at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
We use a variety of methods to study the brain and how it affects behavior.
- We interview participants and their families about a variety of factors that could affect mood and behavior, like different experiences and feelings they've had throughout their lives. This helps us better understand how certain illnesses and life events impact our participants and their families, and may help us improve treatment options for patients in the future.
- To better understand how family history might affect the brain and development, we ask participants and their families about the medical and medication history, if any, of the participant and we also ask about any medical diagnoses the rest of the family may have. This helps us better understand how illnesses may be passed down through the family, and it helps us understand how any illness might have affected brain development.
- Computerized Neurocognitive Battery
- We often have our participants complete a computerized form of testing that measures things like memory, attention, reaction speed, and problem solving. This computerized battery (or group of tests) was created by Dr. Ruben Gur and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania and is used instead of traditional pencil-and-paper tests. It has been translated to over 15 languages, is used all over the world, and has versions for both adults and children. This test can even be taken inside of an MRI machine, so researchers can take pictures of how your brain reacts while you're completing each test. This helps us see which parts of the brain are responsible for different types of tasks, and can help give researchers a glimpse into how typical brains react different than brains with different illnesses
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (or MRI)
- Sometimes we ask our participants to let us take a picture of their brain with an MRI machine. MRI machines take pictures of the inside of your body, except they're different than X-ray machines and CAT scan machines because they don't use any radiation. Instead, they use a magnetic field and radio waves to take pictures. All you have to do is lay inside the machine, which looks like a big donut, and hold as still as you can so the pictures aren't blurry. Most of the time you can even watch a movie or listen to music while you're inside. You won't feel anything and nothing touches your body while the pictures are being taken, you'll just hear banging and knocking noises while the machine works. These brain pictures give researchers a ton of information about how brains grow and develop, how different conditions might affect how the brain looks, and we can even watch the brain activity that happens as you think or performs certain tasks. You can watch a video of what an MRI is like at CHOP by going to http://www.chop.edu/video/getting-mri-cartoon-kids