Summer 2016

Charting the growing brain

Photo by susan andre

Visiting a pediatrician’s office, parents often see growth charts that mark their baby’s physical development milestones. But there’s no such chart for brain development. Jed Elison, assistant professor of child development at the U of M’s College of Education and Human Development, hopes to change that.

Elison’s research focuses on brain development in children between 3 and 24 months, an age when the foundation is laid for subsequent social and cognitive development. “Understanding this development period in greater detail may ultimately allow us to improve the health and well-being of children,” he says.

Scientists have long searched for ways to predict whether someone will develop a neurodegenerative disorder such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, or Parkinson’s diseases. Elison is applying similar ideas to early infancy to identify patterns of brain development that may predict future risks for children. He hopes to create a chart that will diagram growth trajectories for specific brain regions, circuits, and networks—and then link patterns of brain development to patterns of behavioral development.

Elison joined the U’s Institute of Child Development in 2013 and was immediately impressed by its interdisciplinary approach. His lab features aspects of neuroscience, computer science, and biostatistics—as well as clinical, cognitive, and social psychology.

He’s also a founding member of the U of M Autism Initiative, an interdisciplinary collective of researchers, educators, and providers focused on improving the lives of people who have autism. This year, Elison was named a U of M McKnight Land-Grant Professor, an award that providessupport for promising new professors. “Funds from the professorship will foster the Autism Initiative, creating infrastructure so it will benefit more than just me,” he says.

Support field-shaping research in the U of M's Institute of Child Development.