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MUSC joins national study of how screen time, other factors affect child brain development

Kids using tablets (File, WCIV)

(WCIV) -- Screen-time, coffee, sleep. Experts say they all affect the human brain, but what do they do to children and teenagers, specifically? A new study aims to answer those questions.

The Medical University of South Carolina has joined a national research project called the ABCD Study, which stands for Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development. The study's goal is to answer questions about the developing brain and how certain experiences affect the adolescent brain and behavior.

“We want to know how things like screen time, substance use, head injuries, hobbies, video games, how all of these things affect how the brain is developing,” said Lindsay Squeglia, Ph.D.

Dr. Squeglia and Dr. Kevin Gray are the lead researchers involved in the study. MUSC is one of 21 research sites nationwide. They said it’s an ambitious project, all together studying more than 10,000 children.

“Say you go to the pediatrician’s office, you go in and there’s a height chart and a weight chart and every kid gets measured along that and you see what’s normal, if a kid’s behind in terms of height or weight,” said Gray. “We don’t have anything like that for brain development.”

The vast team of researchers are studying nine and 10-year-old children, and will follow them for the next 10 years.

Kristy Ellisor enrolled her son in the study.

“Our kids are coming up in schools where everyone has an iPad and they’re using them, which has great educational value I’m sure, but I do have concerns about the screen time they’re on just from such an early age,” said Ellisor.

She warned others, it’s a lot of work for parents, too. She said she spent several hours filling out detailed questionnaires. But, she and her son, along with all participants, are compensated for their time. While it’s a long-term commitment, she’s looking forward to the results.

“But, really, he genuinely thinks it’s fun, he likes the research assistants there who he is working with and he’s playing brain games for hours,” Ellisor said.

It all starts with a brain scan, which will serve as the baseline for years of research to come. Each participant will undergo an MRI every other year until the completion of the study.

“When they’re in the MRI, we’re interested in looking at the structure of their brain and also the function, how their brain is functioning when they’re in the scanner,” said Squeglia. “They’re playing games when they’re in there and we want to see how the brain is responding to the certain games that they play.”

Gray said in the end, there will be a mountain of data available in all areas of medicine.

“This is the most ambitious of all and the idea is to really get a nuanced look at all kinds of things, not just normative development but also look at a variety of problems and issues that occur during adolescence,” said Gray. “I like this mostly as a learning opportunity for families is to get involved in science and to play a part in discovery.”

For more information, call (843) 792-1999 or visit the website, abcdstudy.org .

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