Current Studies - Spring 2019

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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Dr Wolf

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.

Dr Roalf

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.

Are Your Thoughts Tangled?

You’re not sure how or why it happened, but you are aware of instances lately when it felt like you had no control over your thoughts. You couldn’t think clearly or concentrate, and you may have even heard or seen things that other people didn’t.

While these were unsettling times, you eventually regained control of your thoughts. Still, you may be concerned about whether it will happen again and if it could be a sign of a more serious mental health condition.

Because you and others have experienced symptoms like these, local doctors are conducting the 1289-0032 Research Study. In this study, doctors want to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of an investigational drug and compare it to placebo, which looks like the investigational drug but contains no active medication. The investigational drug is not approved to treat any mental health condition.

The results of this study will provide more information about the investigational drug and whether it could one day be used to help people who have experienced symptoms similar to yours.

Patients eligible for this study may have experienced symptoms such as:

  • Trouble thinking clearly or concentrating
  • Believing or hearing things that others do not
  • Losing control of their thoughts
  • Feeling nervous or anxious
  • Feeling that others are “out to get” them
  • Having trouble with family and friends
  • Having thoughts that scare them or the people around them
  • Having trouble at work or school

You may be able to participate in this study if you:

  • Are 16 to 30 years of age
  • Are experiencing one or more of the symptoms listed in this brochure
  • Have not been diagnosed with schizophrenia or related disorders, bipolar disorder I, or major depressive disorder with psychotic symptoms
  • Are not taking a medication called clozapine

The study staff will review additional eligibility requirements with you. All study-related visits, tests, and drugs will be provided at no cost. In addition, reimbursement for study-related time and travel may be provided.

Please visit to learn more.

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.


The University of Pennsylvania seeks young adults ages 18-28 for a research study. The purpose of this study is to use different types of MRI scans to find individualized TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) targets and compare how the brain responds. We are also interested in using TMS during a working memory test to see how it affects task performance. TMS involves a procedure during which your brain will be noninvasively (i.e. from the scalp) stimulated by magnetic pulses and MRI scans are used to take pictures of your brain. In this study we administer TMS inside of the MRI scanner so we can see how the stimulation affects the rest of the brain.

Participation Includes:
  • Visit 1: Initial Screening Session (4-6 hours)
  • Visit 2: MRI Scan and Assessments (2-4 hours)
  • Visit 3: MRI Scan with TMS (1.5 hours)
  • Visit 4 (healthy control participants only): MRI Scan with TMS (1.5 hours)
  • Visit 5: Task MRI Scan (1 hour)
  • Monetary Compensation
If you are interested in participating, please complete our online screening form at this link: or give us a call at 215-746-2637

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.

Dr. Taylor

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.

Dr Ran Barzilay

Ran Barzilay, M.D., Ph.D.

Risk and Resilience to Developmental Stress

Dr. Barzilay’s research study aims to understand why some people are resilient when experiencing stressful life events as they grow up, while others are susceptible and develop distressing thoughts or emotions. His research study is open to adolescents and young adults ages 16-25, and includes puzzle-like games on a computer, a 1-hour interview answering questions about your thoughts and feelings, and questionnaires about life history and personality traits. Additionally, participants are asked to provide a blood sample and a small hair sample- these will be studied to learn about the biological differences between resilience and susceptibility. The research study lasts approximately 4 hours and study participants will be compensated for their time and travel.