What Is the ABCD Study?

Research shows brain development continues into the twenties. For adolescents, this time holds important developmental and social changes in their lives. There is considerable need to determine what factors influence brain development, and their impact on physical, cognitive, emotional, and academic trajectories.

The Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, is the largest long-term study of brain and cognitive development in children across the country. Findings from the study will increase understanding of environmental, social, and genetic factors that affect brain and cognitive development, and may enhance or disrupt a young person’s trajectory in life.

As of mid February 2018 more than 7,500 young people and their families were recruited for the study. This amount constitutes more than half the goal for participation. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 30 terabytes of data obtained from the first 4,500 participants, will be available to scientists worldwide to conduct research on the many factors that influence the adolescent brain.

The interim release on a large sample of 9-10-year-old children will enable researchers to begin analyzing the adolescent brain. Analysis includes: basic participant demographics, assessments of physical and mental health, substance use, culture and environment, neurocognition, tabulated structural and functional neuroimaging data, and minimally processed brain images, as well as biological data such as pubertal hormone analyses.

The dataset will be broken down by sex, racial/ethnic group, and socioeconomic status. It will allow researchers to address numerous questions related to adolescent brain development to help inform future prevention and treatment efforts, public health strategies and policy decisions. One question of great importance today, is how the occasional versus regular use of substances including alcohol, nicotine, marijuana and drugs affect learning and the developing brain.

According to Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is expected that drug use will be minimal among this young group. However, this research is critical as it will allow scientists to compare brain images before and after substance use begins within individuals who start using. The data can also provide needed insight into how experimentation with drugs, alcohol and nicotine affect developing brains.

The enrollee goal for the study is 11,500 children by the end of 2018. The next annual release will include the data from the full participant group. Participants will be followed for 10 years, during which data are collected on a semi-annual and annual basis through interviews and behavioral testing.

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. ”—Zora Neale Hurston

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