Nora Raschle is a developmental neuroscientist with a background in cognitive and affective neuroscience. With a particular interest in typical and atypical brain development, her work to date has aimed at contributing towards the early detection and in-depth characterization of developmental disabilities, including mental health disorders, using functional and structural neuroimaging techniques. Nora Raschle’s work further includes the study of different developmental trajectories, the inclusion of early psychosocial risk factors and consideration of familial and environmental aspects allowing conclusions on resilience.
My plans for the fellowship period
During my fellowship period I will further pursue projects in the field of pediatric neuroimaging and mental health. More specifically, this research grant will allow the continuation of a project for which we have already successfully tested 75 young participants with and without behavior problems (50 boys, 25 girls / average age 6.2 years) and their mothers (through mother-child-interaction, familial well-being, psychosocial strain, emotional reactivity, and physiological parameters). Our results show that pre-school and elementary school children with behavioral difficulties have a lower ability to self-regulate during acute stress when compared to typically developing controls as assessed by physiological parameters and are more likely to have mothers with mental problems. For this follow-up project, we aim to re-invite all participants and their mothers for clinical interviews, questionnaires, and structural and functional brain imaging (four years later). By doing so, we will be able to use clinical, psychosocial, and neurobiological parameters from early childhood to predict mental well-being as well as brain structure and function in elementary school. This data will enable us to assess a range of neurocognitive research questions using cross-sectional (at the preschool and elementary school level) and longitudinal approaches (using prediction analysis from the earlier time point to school-age).
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
Brain development results from a complex interplay and many factors impact a healthy growth. Particularly the time span between early childhood and adolescence marks a sensitive time window during which differing developmental pathways are set. Along with a multitude of behavioral and physical changes, childhood and adolescence strikingly mark the peak onset of many mental disorders. This peak is preceded by psychosocial risk factors or early life stressors that pose a risk for the advancement of later disturbances. However, these risk factors can be rescued by resilience, described as the adaptability of a person to adjust or respond after adverse life events. While there is strong evidence pointing towards an influence of early environmental risk or resilience on brain structure and function, these concepts have rarely been directly investigated. The number of studies using functional and structural neuroimaging techniques in younger age ranges is still rare. Likewise, longitudinal research designs are needed. Particularly by focusing on very young age groups using structural and functional neuroimaging my endeavours can lead to an increased knowledge about basic brain principles, diagnosis, and treatment options, and may thus impact the children’s and family’s own well-being, ultimately reaching societal and clinical impact.