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DevSci Announces Seed Fund Awardees

The Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences (DevSci) is excited to announce the recipients of our inaugural seed fund competition. We are awarding nearly $60,000, which was supported in part by generous contributions by Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute, to three transdisciplinary research projects that exemplify DevSci’s mission of catalyzing cross-campus collaborations and will help to advance our “Healthier, Earlier” mission.

The overarching goal of the DevSci pilot research initiative is to encourage interdisciplinary work among faculty, promote research activities that develop innovative approaches within the developmental sciences, and facilitate interactions across Northwestern campuses for faculty and students. Hosted by the DevSci Center for Research Incubation, these funds are meant to support pilot work for efforts targeted at high-impact, innovative external grant submissions in the developmental sciences.

Dr. Jami Josefson, Dr. Daniel Robinson, and Dr. David Uttal were all selected for their innovative research ideas and interdisciplinary research teams. In addition, Dr. Uttal was named the DevSci Linzer Fellow for his history of innovative collaborative research. These fellowships were created in honor of the vision and leadership of former Northwestern Provost, Daniel Linzer, for his dedication to innovative interdisciplinary collaboration at Northwestern.

Throughout the year, the awardees will receive support on extramural grant submissions from the Center for Research Incubation, co-directed by Matt Davis, MD, MAPP, Pediatrics/Lurie and Meg Roberts, PhD, CCC – SLP Communication Sciences & Disorders/SOC. In addition, DevSci will host symposiums for the awardees to present their research. The next seed fund competition will be held in the fall of 2018.

Long-Term Follow Up of Children with in utero Exposure to Sulfonylureas

Research Team

Principal Investigator

Jami Josefson, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Feinberg School of Medicine

Co-Investigator

Elizabeth Norton, Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders, School of Communications

Consultant

William Grobman, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Feinberg School of Medicine

 

This study aims to examine how gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), a pregnancy complication increasing in prevalence, may adversely program fetal adipose tissue. Some observed adverse health outcomes for children exposed to GDM include large-for-gestational birth weight, neonatal hypoglycemia, higher rates of childhood obesity, glucose intolerance, and neurodevelopmental disruptions. Currently, the only approved treatment for diabetes during pregnancy is insulin, but providers are increasingly offering oral hypoglycemic agents which are often preferable to women and less costly. Dr. Josefson and her team hypothesize that exposure to sulfonylurea medications during gestation leads to adverse physical and developmental child health outcomes. The researchers will investigate the associations between in utero sulfonylurea exposure and childhood adiposity as well as assess childhood cognition and self-regulation. One goal of this pilot project is to demonstrate the ability to recruit 5-10 year old children who were exposed to sulfonylurea during gestation. The study population consists of 5-10 year old children of mothers who were GDM or type 2 diabetics and required medical treatment with insulin or sulfonylurea during their pregnancies. Of those women who delivered at Northwestern Prentice Women’s Hospital during this time frame, 5,526 were diagnosed with GDM or type 2 diabetes. 1,280 were treated with insulin and 199 were treated with sulfonylurea which indicates the feasibility of recruiting 40 participants for the study.

Maternal Malnutrition and Implications for Human Milk Lipids and Preterm Infant Growth and Development Through Early Childhood

Research Team

Principal Investigator

Daniel Robinson, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Feinberg School of Medicine

Co-Investigators

Elizabeth Norton, Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders, School of Communications

Sandra Waxman, Professor of Psychology, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences

Linda Van Horn, Associate Dean for Faculty Development, Chief of Nutrition in the Department of Preventative Medicine, and Professor of Preventative Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine

Jami Josefson, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Feinberg School of Medicine

Prior research suggest that human milk as the primary form of nutrition reduces the risk of impeded growth and development in preterm infants. Pre-pregnancy overweight and obesity (OW/OB) is common and may add risk to infant development as maternal malnutrition may compromise milk’s beneficial effects compared to formula feedings. Dr. Robinson and his team intend to research the effects that maternal malnutrition, specifically when OW/OB, has on the development of preterm infants as it has been documented that maternal dietary intake affects milk lipids. Pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) and dietary supplement use have been identified as modifiers of select fatty acid concentrations, one component of the human milk lipidome (i.e., composition of lipids). The project aims to define the lipidome in human milk expressed by women who deliver prior to 32 weeks by examining lipidomic alterations comparing between normal and above-average maternal BMI. The researchers also seek to measure the effects of pre-pregnancy OW/OB on preterm infant development and hypothesize that maternal OW/OB malnutrition will effect infant growth and cognition within the first five years. Finally, they intend to evaluate the feasibility of neurodevelopmental assessments to effectively detect cumulative influences of maternal and postnatal nutrition. This research departs from other work focused on preterm infant development as it focuses on maternal nutritional and metabolic status.

Touch Screen Technology’s Impact on Young Children’s Spatial Skills

Research Team

Principal Investigator

David Uttal, Professor of Psychology, Weinberg School of Arts & Sciences and Professor of Education and Social Policy, School of Education and Social Policy, DevSci Linzer Fellow

Co-Investigators

Ellen Wartella, Professor of Communication Studies, Chairperson of Communication Studies, Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Chair in Communications, School of Communications

Rachel Flynn, Research Assistant Professor of Medical Social Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine

As young children spend increasingly more time on touch screen devices, these researchers are seeking to test if these devices can facilitate the development of children’s spatial thinking and to explore whether the proposed improvements in spatial thinking resulting from playing games will also improve early mathematic skills. While touchscreen devices were considered to be novel ten years ago, they are now present in many children’s everyday lives and present the opportunity to aid children’s learning through games that facilitate thinking skills. This research will lead to development of new applications based on effectiveness in supporting children’s learning and will be the first study to examine touchscreen devices’ influence on spatial cognitive skills for young children using eye-tracking methods. The initial research will provide important information for designing a longitudinal study examining these relationships. Prior research shows the potential detriment to children’s social engagement when using technology too often, however, this research aims to examine the benefits of these technologies regarding cognitive development. Read more about Dr. Uttal’s work on from the School of Education and Social Policy.