Developmental Cognition and Neuroimaging Lab receives grant to research brain development in infants

Damien Fair

A grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation extends work to identify biomarkers for cognitive delays in infants. 

OHSU has received a $100,000 boost from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to extend research to identify early biomarkers of typical and atypical cognitive brain development in infants.

Damien Fair, P.A.-C., Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral neuroscience and psychiatry in the OHSU School of Medicine, is leading the research. The new grant will enable OHSU neuroscientists to develop neuroimaging-based measures of brain growth and function. The goal is to identify children in the developing world who would most benefit from interventions such as improved nutrition and other forms of therapy in the first two years of life.

A challenge faced by the Gates Foundation with regard to their mission is that there are not enough resources to support everybody — this research may help determine at the earliest stages of development who needs it most.

Resources are not only an issue in the developing world. Similar types of issues occur in western countries as well. Fair, along with collaborators, has been focusing energy toward characterizing early predictors of brain and cognitive development.

Fair was featured in Spectrum’s Jan. 9, 2019 “Rising Star” series, which profiles scientists significantly impacting autism and behavioral neuroscience research. The article showcases Fair’s leadership in resting-state fMRI. 

The new funding continues previous work at OHSU funded with support from the Gates Foundation, including the use brain-imaging technologies like functional magnetic resonance imaging and EEG (electroencephalogram) to measure brain activation, connectivity and physical features such as myelin. Fair and his colleagues will focus on developing protocols that will eventually assist health-care practitioners in developing countries interpret this complex brain-imaging data, and early markers of health.

The project will provide a path to develop reliable screening tools for early cognitive delays.

Currently, more than 250 million children under 5 years of age fail to reach their development potential, resulting in lifelong delays and impairments. With funding from the Gates Foundation, OHSU and other leading experts in neuroimaging, child development and data science are working to accelerate the development of neuroimaging-based assessment tools.

“We hope this is the beginning of a relationship that could be much larger in the future,” Fair said.


— Erik Robinson