Current Studies - Fall 2018

MRI Brain Scan

Our Research Studies

Just some of the groundbreaking work we do at the Lifespan Brain Institute

Our LiBI team is dedicated to studying how the brain and behavior develop and change over time and in response to different illnesses. 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.

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Daniel Wolf, M.D., Ph.D.


Dr. Wolf's research study is examining motivation in adolescents and young adults, ages 16 to 26. He is interested in studying how brain development affects this process.

His research study includes decision-making and puzzle-like games on a computer, self-report questionnaires (i.e., answering questions about mood, behavior, and personality), a 1-hour interview answering questions about how you spend your time, and a 1-hour MRI scan. The research study lasts approximately 6 hours and and study participants will be compensated for their time and travel.

The MOTIVE research team hopes to better understand how motivation evolves in adolescents and young adults with different mental health experiences.

David Roalf, Ph.D.


Dr. David Roalf is a cognitive neuroscientist interested in the development of the brain and its many functions. Dr. Roalf's studies investigate the brain, cognition, and behavior among adolescents and young adults aged 13-30.

These studies include decision-making and puzzle-like games on a computer, self-report questionnaires (i.e., answering questions about mood and personality), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy (MRS). These studies involve 1-2 study visits, lasting approximately 5 hours. Study participants will be compensated for their time and travel.

Through this research, we hope to better understand how the brain and its functions develop in adolescents and young adults with different mental health experiences. We believe these studies will help guide treatment and prevention of mental disorders.

Sunny Tang, M.D.

Social Minds Project and Social Processes Initiative

Social processes are very important for functioning in society and can be impaired in disorders like autism and schizophrenia. The Social Minds Project will be looking at what language and social media posts tells us about an individual’s way of processing interpersonal information. Participants will share text from Facebook and Twitter posts (data is anonymized and aggregated to protect privacy) and will play puzzle-like games as well as answer questions about their thinking, mood and behavior. This study will help us better understand interpersonal interactions and eventually improve social processes in people who need it. Participants are compensated for their time.

Dr. Sunny Tang's Social Processes Initiative is a forum intended to promote collaboration among researchers from different disciplines who are interested in understanding social processes, which include how humans and animals think, feel, and act in social situations. Our members are from both CHOP and UPenn, and include researchers who specialize in psychiatry, neurology, neuroscience, linguistics, computer science, animal behavior, communications, marketing and other areas. Our goal is to combine our expertise and make novel discoveries together in this important area.

Jerome Taylor, M.D.

Melatonin, Sleep, and Mental Health

Dr. Taylor is a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist interested in developing interventions to prevent schizophrenia and other illnesses with psychotic features, like bipolar. He is also interested in the biological mechanisms underlying the “conversion” from being a youth at high risk for psychosis (e.g. a child or adolescent who has a family member with schizophrenia or bipolar) to a youth with a fulminant psychotic disorder. He is particularly interested in the roles neuroinflammation, oxidative stress and sleep play in "conversion to psychosis."

Dr. Taylor's Melatonin, Sleep and Mental Health research study seeks to understand how sleep affects mental health.

His study includes participants (age 11 - 30) who have mild sleep problems. The purpose of this research study is to see if supplemental melatonin improves sleep and the sleep-wake patterns (also known as circadian rhythm) in children, teenagers, and young adults with at-risk symptoms.

For this study, participants will take an over-the-counter melatonin pill or placebo for 2 weeks. In addition, they will complete a computerized test that measures memory and attention and an interview about life experiences, family history, thoughts, feelings and aspects of mental health.

Alison K. Merikangas, Ph.D. &
Rachel L. Kember, Ph.D.

Investigating the genetic architecture of psychiatric disorders and their medical comorbidity from a developmental perspective

Psychiatric disorders are a leading cause of disability worldwide. In fact, increased early death and disability in individuals with psychiatric disorders may be attributable to increased prevalence of co-occurring (comorbid) medical illness, as more than 50% of adults with psychiatric illness also have a chronic medical condition. Likewise, data from the CHOP Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort (PNC) has demonstrated pervasive co-occurrence between medical and psychiatric disorders in youth. Recently, research has uncovered shared genetic causes for co-occurring conditions that were seemingly disparate.

Differences in patterns of co-occurrence between psychiatric disorders and medical conditions may allow us to identify more homogenous disease entities with common causal disease processes. Identifying the genetic loci underlying these co-occurring disorders across development may provide insight into causes, and identify key pathways for treatment of both disorders. By utilizing both a youth and an adult dataset from the same geographical region with ethnic diversity, we will seek to identify patterns of co-occurring of psychiatric disorders and medical symptoms, and their evolution across the life span. To our knowledge, our study is the first to examine these associations in large diverse samples of children and adults, and whether there may be common genetic architecture underlying co-occurring conditions. Therefore, we are working on a collaborative project that utilizes data from the Penn Medicine BioBank and the CHOP PNC to: a) identify patterns of medical/psychiatric co-occurrence across development and maturation; b) examine differences in co-occurrence by sex, age, and ancestry; c) evaluate whether common genetic factors influence co-occurring conditions; and d) identify genetic and transcriptomic (protein coding) differences between subgroups of disorders.

This research is supported in part by the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics’ (ITMAT) Transdisciplinary Program in Translational Medicine and Therapeutics, and in part by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number UL1TR001878. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

Theodore Satterthwaite, M.D., M.A.

Executive Function

Dr. Satterthwaite's research study focuses on how developing brain networks allow children to executive function—  which includes self-control.  His research study is open to children ages 8-15, and includes decision-making and puzzle-like games on a computer, questionnaires about moods and feelings, and a 1-hour MRI scan.  Participating children return one or two times over several years.  Each visit lasts approximately 3.5 hours; your child will be compensated for their time.

By following brain development over time, Dr. Satterthwaites and his research team seek to better understand how the developing brain supports executive function and self-control  in children and adolescents with different mental health experiences.