Department News

Garavan, Potter & Team Launch UVM Recruitment for Landmark Adolescent Brain Development Study

September 21, 2016 by Jennifer Nachbur

Recruitment for the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States – the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study – launched September 13, 2016.

ABCD Study Co-Principal Investigator Alexandra Potter, Ph.D., left, reviews a brain image with Matthew Albaugh, Ph.D., postdoctoral research associate on the ABCD Study. (Photo: Andy Duback)

More than 10,000 children across U.S. will participate in study

Recruitment for the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States – the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study – launched September 13, 2016. The landmark study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will follow the biological and behavioral development of more than 10,000 children beginning at ages 9-10 through adolescence into early adulthood. Recruitment will be done over a two-year period through partnerships with public and private schools near research sites across the country, including at the University of Vermont, as well as through twin registries.

Adolescence is a time of extraordinary physical, emotional, and intellectual growth as well as a changing social environment full of new challenges and opportunities that help shape a young person’s adult identity, health and well-being. There is much to learn about how varied adolescent experiences (e.g., participation in extracurricular activities; playing video games; sleep habits; head injuries from sports; experimentation with alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other substances), affect development and vice-versa. This is particularly true in our rapidly changing world, which is now dominated by social media and other forms of communication in which adolescents readily engage.

“We know the brain is still developing well into the mid-20s, making it vulnerable to a host of influences,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “With several NIH institutes and centers working together on this important study, we will be able to learn how a variety of biological events and environmental exposures affect brain development, giving us greater insight into what helps adolescents traverse that potentially tumultuous time to become healthy and productive adults.”

The University of Vermont is one of 19 centers participating in the ABCD study, with psychiatry faculty members Hugh Garavan, Ph.D., and Alexandra Potter, Ph.D., serving as the site principal investigators. Recruitment will be coordinated through elementary schools all throughout Vermont and will continue for the next two years. Study information will be distributed to parents through their local schools.

“We are very gratified with Vermont’s inclusion, given this study’s aim to characterize psychological and brain development in as representative a sample as possible of U.S. youth,” says Garavan. “This research will generate a vastly large and detailed dataset that will yield insights for decades to come into the transition from childhood to adolescence through to adulthood.”

During the course of the next decade, the ABCD study scientists will use advanced brain imaging, interviews, and behavioral testing to determine how childhood experiences interact with each other and with a child’s changing biology to affect brain development and – ultimately – social, behavioral, academic, health and other outcomes.

Understanding these relationships may help reveal the biological and environmental building blocks that best contribute to successful and resilient young adults. This enhanced knowledge also may lead to ways to predict potential developmental problems so that they can be prevented or reversed. Families that volunteer will be part of groundbreaking research that promises to inform future educational strategies, child development innovations, research priorities, more effective public health interventions, and science-based policy decisions.  

The ABCD Coordinating Center is housed at the University of California at San Diego and recruitment will be conducted through schools at 19 study sites across the country. For more information about this landmark study, please visit .

The ABCD study is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Cancer Institute, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the NIH Office of  Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, and the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other UVM faculty participating on the ABCD study research team include Matthew Albaugh, Ph.D., postdoctoral research associate; Julie Dumas, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry; James Hudziak, M.D., professor of psychiatry; Richard Watts, Ph.D., associate professor of radiology.

(This article is adapted from a press release produced by the National Institute on Drug Abuse press office.)