Education and Brain Sciences Research Grants

Currently Funded Research Grants

Early Academic Achievement and Intervention Response: Role of Executive Function
  • Grant number: R37HD095519-01A1
  • PI: Laurie E. Cutting, Ph. D.
  • Study Duration: Sep 2018 - Aug 2023
  • Sponsor: NICHD
  • Identifier: NCT03713125

Despite the fact that a substantial number of school age children struggle with both reading and math acquisition, the brain mechanisms of the overlapping aspects of reading and math skills, thought in part to be linked via executive functions (EF), have not been unpacked. This project will use a longitudinal design, following children from Kindergarten through 1st grade, to understand how the brain networks associated with reading, math, and EF interact to predict academic outcomes and, in those who struggle academically, intervention response. Our ultimate goal is to develop brain-based causal models of academic success/failure so that we can better understand how to effectively individualize instruction in a way that maximizes academic success and prevents academic failure.

Neurobiology and the treatment of reading disabilities in Neurofibromatosis Type‐1
  • Grant number: R01HD089474
  • PI: Laurie E. Cutting, Ph.D.
  • Study duration: Sep 2016 - Jan 2022
  • Sponsor: NICHD

Neurofibromitosis Type 1 (NF1) is a common autosomal dominant neurocutaneous syndrome. The most common concern of NF1 is learning disabilities (LDs). Approximately half of children with NF1 have LDs, the most common of which are reading disabilities (RDs). The purpose of this research is to gain a deeper understanding of the characteristics and treatment of RDs in NF1. This study combines a pharmaceutical intervention with a reading intervention to determine if there are synergistic effects in treating RDs in children NF1

Healthy Brain and Child Development Study (HBCD)
  • Project number: 1U01DA055347-01
  • PI: Laurie E. Cutting, Ph.D.
  • Study duration: Oct 2021 - 10 years
  • Sponsor: NICHD

The first few years of life are a period of exponential growth and brain development. The long-term effects of perinatal exposure to opioids on infant and child development are unknown. To address this knowledge gap, the HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) Study will recruit a large cohort of pregnant women from regions of the country significantly affected by the opioid crisis and follow them and their children through early childhood. The study will collect information beginning at birth and continuing through early childhood, including structural and functional brain imaging; anthropometrics; medical history; family history; biospecimens; and social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Knowledge gained from this research will be used to better understand and ultimately prevent or attenuate the harms of prenatal and postnatal exposure to drugs or other adverse environmental conditions, including risk for early substance use, mental disorders, and other behavioral and developmental problems. It will also identify resilience factors that may mitigate some of these adverse outcomes.

Previously Funded Research Grants

Cognitive and Neural Processes in Reading Comprehension
  • Grant number: R01HD044073
  • PI: Laurie E. Cutting, Ph.D.
  • Study duration: Aug 2015 - Jul 2021
  • Sponsor: NICHD

This new and unexplored direction in reading comprehension research seeks to understand: (1) how comprehension develops neurobiologically and coordinates with word reading (2) if certain discourse features, with exploration of both narrative and informational texts, are important for reading comprehension outcomes and (3) the role of executive function in reading comprehension development. To our knowledge, we would be the first to test in a developmental context (via a longitudinal design) the hypothesis of neurobiological overlap of lower- and higher-level reading skills, and strength of structural and functional connections from these overlap regions, to predict successful reading comprehension. This is an important research direction, as studies have shown that older poor readers (especially non-responders to instruction) have both lower (word-level) and higher-level (comprehension) weaknesses. Ultimately, this research has the potential to change current practice, during grades in which children are increasingly required to gain information from text, by determining the neurobiology of reading comprehension, with particular focus on how narrative and informational texts may be processed differently.

Virtual Tutoring Positive Behavior Support
  • Sponsor Award Number: 7010
  • PI: Sage Pickren
  • Study Duration: Nov 2020 - May 2021
  • Sponsor: The Association for Positive Behavior Support

This grant aims to implement a token economy with students virtually as they receive one-on-one reading instruction. The goal is to create a tutor-friendly intervention that increases engagement and decreases problem behavior during online reading instruction.

Multifaceted Home Environment Interacting with Brain Networks Beyond Socioeconomic Circumstances
  • Grant Number: F31HD104385
  • PI: Tin Nguyen
  • Study Duration: Sept 2020 - Aug 2022
  • Sponsor: NICHD & NIMH

Early environment plays a major role in children’s brain and cognitive growth. Adversity linked to lower socioeconomic circumstances is negatively related to differences in children’s brain areas that support executive functions and language. Uniquely for the effect of socioeconomic circumstances, home literacy and language environment have been shown to tap children’s brain areas linked to reading and language – hinting at a protective mechanism. Our study aimed to characterize what and how specific features of an enriched home literacy and language environment interact with children’s brain differences to moderate the adverse effect of lower socioeconomic circumstances.

Predicting Late-Emerging Reading Disability
  • Grant Number: R01HD067254
  • PI: Laurie E. Cutting, Ph.D.
  • Study Duration: Sep 2010 – Jul 2017
  • Sponsor: NICHD

Few studies have investigated the nature of children who develop reading disabilities at or around the 4th-5th grade. Late-emerging Reading Disability (LERD) affects approximately 20 – 46 % of children identified as having a reading disability in late elementary school. Thus, it is likely that LERD is a significant contributing factor to the prevalence of reading failure in 4th and 8th grades (which is about 30%; NAEP, 2007). The goal of this study is to determine the cognitive and neurobiological profile associated with LERD, and establish how LERD is similar or different than early reading failure (RD-E). To accomplish this goal, the study will first gather data to determine the cognitive and neurobiological profile of a sample of 5th graders who have been identified as having LERD. We hypothesize that children with LERD will show a distinct cognitive and neurobiological profile, as compared to RD-E, that will be apparent in various aspects of their oral language and executive function (attention, memory, motor skills). Secondly, we will utilize the established cognitive and neurobiological profile of the 5th graders with LERD to guide the development of a predictive battery of cognitive and neurobiological tests to identify children at risk for LERD in earlier grades. We plan to follow the children identified as being at risk for LERD for several years, acquiring behavioral and neuronal data to better understand the development of LERD. This line of research can assist schools in determining what measures should included as early identifiers for those at risk for LERD and developing early intervention programs for those at risk for LERD. The research obtained through this study will be extremely valuable due to the fact that, in addition to learning specifically about LERD, we will contribute generally to the present understanding of brain maturation, particularly connectivity, over time.

The Neurocognition of Procedural and Declarative Memory in Dyslexia and S-RCD
  • Grant Number: R21HD087088
  • PI: Laurie E. Cutting, Ph.D.
  • Study Duration: Aug 2016 - Jul 2019
  • Sponsor: NICHD

Reading proficiently is a critical skill. Nevertheless, about 25-30% of children are poor readers. Thus, the need to understand how individuals read and comprehend text is critical. A widely accepted developmental model of reading, the Simple View, demarcates reading as consisting of lower-level (phonemic decoding, i.e., orthographic-to-phonological conversions) and higher-level (comprehension) skills, with each level associated with different types of reading difficulties (RD). Those with dyslexia (DYS) show lower-level deficits, with poor phonological processing thought to play an important explanatory role in their impaired decoding abilities. Recently, interest has focused on basic learning mechanisms that may underlie DYS, including the role of procedural and declarative learning and memory. Evidence suggests that procedural memory is poor in DYS, but that declarative memory may be intact. In contrast to DYS, children with Specific Reading Comprehension Deficits (S-RCD) read words quickly and accurately, but struggle with the higher-level skill of reading comprehension. Studies of S-RCD indicate poor semantic processing despite adequate phonological processing/decoding, as well as neurobiological anomalies of the medial temporal lobe (a structure associated with declarative memory) while reading low frequency words. These findings suggest that declarative memory may be weak in S-RCD. Our overarching goal is to explore the behavioral and neural correlates of learning in declarative and procedural memory systems through comparison of DYS, S-RCD, and typically developing readers and examination of how these two memory systems relate to decoding and reading comprehension more generally. We hypothesize (Aim 1) that DYS will show weaknesses in procedural but not declarative learning, while S-RCD may show the opposite. These differences will also be reflected in neurobiological alterations in functional patterns underlying each system. We also hypothesize (Aim 2) more broadly that when decoding and reading comprehension are examined on a continuum, behavioral and neural indices of declarative/procedural memory will differentially predict the two reading skills. This line of research represents relatively new and uncharted territory in understanding RD, especially S-RCD, and may in the long run help elucidate better treatments for those with reading difficulty, which is a significant public health concern. Ultimately, our plan is to build on this exploratory project to pursue R01 funding.