Wellcome LEAP 1kD program aims to provide major brain development breakthroughs
An international consortium led by Professor Sir Peter Gluckman of the University of Auckland has been awarded a multi-million-dollar, multi-year contract as part of a program aimed at providing major breakthroughs to predict critical aspects of children’s brain development.
The project, funded by Wellcome Leap as part of the 1kD program, is intended to develop more precise methods of early screening, which will allow children who need intervention to be identified earlier for appropriate early interventions and therefore achieve better outcomes.
The project will study the development of self-regulation and executive function in the first three years of life with the aim to develop accurate, scalable, early screening methods to predict executive function and responses to intervention, and is the largest single research contract ever awarded to the University of Auckland.
Executive function is at the heart of the project, Professor Gluckman explained, because it allows children to plan, pay attention, to learn and to self- regulate.
“They are the most important functions in determining success in schooling and in life. As children approach their third birthday, their level of executive functioning will greatly contribute to how successful they will be in negotiating the opportunities and obstacles they face in life,” he added.
“Well-developed executive function improves a child’s chances for school success, lifelong physical, neural, and mental health; and underpins greater productivity and prosperity. If the foundations of executive function are not well developed in childhood it has significant consequences.”
Previous research has shown that children with underdeveloped executive function at the age of three represent about 20 percent of the population but make up nearly 80 percent of adults who are likely to require some form of societal or economic assistance, increasing the pressure on mental health services.
Working in multidisciplinary teams, researchers from ten international teams will work with a clinical focus across neuroscience, engineering and technology under the Wellcome LEAP 1kD program.
The Gluckman-led consortium will conduct advanced studies of children’s brain development integrated across Singapore (Professor Michael Meaney, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Dr Anne Rifkin Graboi), Boston (Professor Charles Nelson), New Zealand (Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Richie Poulton, and Justin O’Sullivan) and Bangladesh (Professor Terrence Forrester and Dr Haque).
The studies include using advanced brain electrophysiology and related measures for early screening and prediction, and a variety of nutritional, educational and parental support interventions. Other components of the work explore factors which affect the vulnerability of infants to the impairment of executive function such as social, nutritional factors and the gut microbiome, New Zealand Doctor shared.
Wellcome LEAP, seed funded by the Wellcome Trust, is a global ARPA for health. It is an organization that aims to deliver critical breakthroughs in health at speed and scale. This is not based on traditional grant applications but brings together multi-disciplinary, global teams to solve problems that they cannot solve alone.