Children’s Brain Imaging Research Looks for Signatures of Mental Illness
In a room tucked next to the reception desk in a colorful lobby of a Park Avenue office tower, kids slide into the core of a white cylinder and practice something kids typically find quite difficult: staying still. Inside the tunnel, a child lies on her back and looks up at a television screen, watching a cartoon. If her head moves, the screen goes blank, motivating her to remain motionless. This dress rehearsal, performed at The Child Mind Institute, prepares children emotionally and physically to enter a real magnet for a scan of their brain. The scan is not part of the child’s treatment; it is his or her contribution to science. What scientists learn from hundreds to thousands of brain scans from children who are ill, as well as those who are not, is likely to be of enormous benefit to children in the future.
The Child Mind Institute is a one-of-a-kind facility dedicated to the mental health of children. Its clinicians offer state-of-the-art treatments for children with psychiatric disorders. (For more on its clinical services see my previous post, “Minding Our Children’s Minds.”) In addition to spotting and treating mental illness, The Child Mind Institute is dedicated to improving both through science. Its researchers are helping build a repository of brain scans to better understand both ordinary brain development and how mental illness might warp that process.
Tracking the developmental trajectory of mental illness is a critical, overlooked enterprise. Almost three quarters of psychiatric disorders start before age 24 and psychological problems in childhood often portend bona fide, or more severe, diagnoses in adults. If scientists can pinpoint changes that forecast a mental disorder, they might be able to diagnose an incipient disease, when it might be preventable, and possibly target the troublesome circuits through therapy. Certain brain signatures might also provide information about disease risk and prognosis, and about what types of treatments might work best for an individual.
Read more at Can children’s brains explain mental illness?