University of Calgary

Funding to help researcher understand brain development in children

UToday HomeJuly 2, 2013

Signe Bray and the 3T MRI at Alberta Children’s HospitalSigne Bray and the 3T MRI at Alberta Children’s HospitalSigne Bray, assistant professor in the Department of Radiology and a member of Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, has been awarded a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council grant for $145,000 to advance her research on the relationship between brain structure and function during childhood and adolescent development.

“I am very excited about receiving this award,” says Bray, who began her work at the Alberta Children’s Hospital this year. Bray graduated from engineering at the University of Waterloo and pursued a graduate program in computation and neural systems at California Institute of Technology and a post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford University.

Learning more about the brain

Bray’s goal with this award is to achieve a better understanding of normal brain development by defining how changes in brain structure influence neural patterns.

“This is such an interesting period when the brain is developing and in some cases, when mental health issues become apparent,” Bray says. “We may observe some changes that give clues to understanding how mental health disorders appear in children, before they are actually observed in behavior.”

How the brain activity is measured

Bray will enroll about 60 children aged 7 to 15 in her study. The children will be scanned while undergoing a series of spatial and mental acuity tests. At the same time, their brain structure will be recorded and measured in detail. These measurements will be taken by using the 3T MRI at the Alberta Children’s Hospital which analyzes blood oxygen utilization in the cortex when the brain is at work. Bray will be particularly interested in the visual system of the brain which matures before other areas.

“We believe that during normal maturation, the brain starts pruning unnecessary connections at this age, so we’re going to learn more about this process and how it relates to cognition,” Bray says.

The children will be asked to repeat the scan at intervals over a two year period. Bray will begin the study in the next few months.

The grant was awarded on May 22 and will run for five years.