Bay Area researchers to probe teen brains to study development

MENLO PARK, Calif. (KGO) -- At an age when most kids can barely make up their minds, 10-year-old Haley Brown is getting a look inside of hers. Haley and her family are volunteering for a groundbreaking study that will follow her -- and her brain -- through her teenage years.

"I think that life's an incredible thing. And I think that everyone will grow up and as you're aging you change and your brain changes as you grow up, and I can't wait to see how it all turns out," says Haley.

The study is called ABCD, for Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development. Researchers at SRI international in Menlo Park will scan Haley's brain with a sophisticated MRI at regular intervals as she grows.

"So we can look at many things. So it's changes in the absolute structure of the brain, and changes in the function of the brain," explains researcher Dr. Fiona Baker.

Baker says the study will ultimately follow 10,000 kids nationwide, comparing changes in their lives to changes in their brains and looking for clues. Why do some kids grow up to smoke? Or drink? Or take drugs? Why do others excel at school? What's behind teenage depression and suicide? Does technology feed teenage stress? And most importantly, does brain development play a part in any of it?

"So it's looking at those interrelationships between many biological, and environmental and social and behavioral factors," says Baker.

In addition to the MRI scans, the subjects will take a battery of cognitive tests and undergo interviews about their lives, giving researchers a detailed picture of all the twists and turns. Co-investigator Dr. Ian Colrain is hoping to turn that data into practical tools for parents.

"We hopefully can go back and say, yep, this is predictive, so let's deal with it," says Colrain.

For Haley it's a chance to learn more about herself, both inside and out. And maybe help teenagers in the future, live healthier and happier lives.

"I'm really excited for that and I'm excited for what's next to come," she says, smiling.

SRI is one of 19 research sites participating in the study. Researchers are still recruiting families. For more information, click here.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.
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