By Michael Haederle

UNM Research Teams Focused on Child Brain Development

Researchers in neurosciences, psychiatry and psychology from across The University of New Mexico presented their latest findings at this year’s Brain & Behavioral Health Institute (BBHI) Research Day.

 The annual event, held in the Domenici Center for Health Sciences Education on the UNM Health Sciences campus, took child neurodevelopment as its theme, with a keynote discussion led by Ryan Bogdan, PhD, professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, on the genetic and prenatal influences underlying substance use disorder.

The Research Day, which drew more than 200 participants and attendees, included 71 poster presentations and abstracts from graduate students and postdoctoral fellows representing nearly two dozen UNM departments.

Student winner

“The BBHI Research Day highlighted that child neurodevelopment is an undeniable area of strength at UNM Health and Health Sciences, and that all our centers are striving to break silos and looking for ways to collaborate with each other in order to facilitate groundbreaking research and better serve our communities,” said BBHI co-director Ludmila Bakhireva, MD, PhD, MPH.

An afternoon session included an overview of research initiatives from five Health Sciences centers that focus on young children. Participants included Bakhireva, who serves as principal investigator of the HEALthy Brain and Child Development study; Debra MacKenzie, PhD, multiple principal investigator of the Navajo Birth Cohort Study; Albert Kong, MD, MPH, PI for the IDeA States Pediatric Clinical Trials Network; Jessie Maxwell, MD, with the Neonatal Research Network; Marcia Moriarta, PsyD, executive director of the Center for Development and Disability, and Dan Savage, PhD, director and co-PI of the New Mexico Alcohol Research Center.

“We see this roundtable discussion as the first step in a continuum of concerted efforts to foster collaboration between UNM centers and programs focusing on early childhood development and well-being,” Bakhireva said.

The event was supported by the UNM Health Sciences Office of Research, the BBHI Advisory Committee, sponsoring departments and “an army of volunteers,” said BBHI co-director Kiran Bhaskar, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology.

“We plan to continue this momentum throughout the year by bringing in focus groups to promote more collaborations and research in neurodevelopment and child brain health area of BBHI,” he said.

The posters and abstracts covered a wide range of topics relating to brain and behavioral health, from studying Alzheimer’s disease in Native Americans to gauging brain depolarizations in stroke patients.

Major areas of research included neurological diseases and neuro-oncology, strokes and traumatic brain injury, neurodevelopment, substance use disorders, prenatal exposures, and social determinants of health/population health.

All our centers are striving to break silos and looking for ways to collaborate with each other in order to facilitate groundbreaking research and better serve our communities.”
— Ludmila Bakhireva, MD, PhD, MPH
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