Child & Brain
Development

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About this program

How do early childhood experiences affect lifelong health?

Researchers with the program in Child & Brain Development want to know how adversity and enrichment in early childhood affect mental, physical and emotional health throughout a lifetime, and how the problems caused by early adversity can be abated or reversed.

This program has led the way in moving beyond the debate about “nature vs. nurture,” and instead has helped establish that it is interactions among genes and environments during early childhood that guide human development.

The program examines the neurobiological mechanisms that are governed by those gene-environment interactions and how they determine individual differences in children’s development and health. Researchers are also concerned with the larger societal differences in outcomes when children grow up in poverty and when they are reared in more sustaining environments.

Program at a glance

Founded in
2003
Members
22
Renewal Dates
2007, 2012
Supporters
  •   The Alva Foundation
  •   George Weston Limited
  •   Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life
  •   The Joan and Clifford Hatch Foundation
  •   The W. Garfield Weston Foundation
  •   (1 Anonymous Donor)
Disciplines

Behavioural, developmental, molecular and evolutionary biology; behavioural genetics; epigenetics; cognitive and developmental neuroscience; biological, cognitive and developmental psychology; psychiatry; biological anthropology; epidemiology

 

Program details 

The Child & Brain Development program has significantly increased knowledge about the way early experiences influence biological development and lead to health differences over time. Program members conduct basic, field and clinical research and come from a wide range of disciplines, including neurobiology, epidemiology, paediatrics, molecular genetics, psychiatry, psychology and anthropology.

They study not only the complex interactions of genes with children’s early environments, but also the neural processes and molecular pathways by which those interactions act on development.
CBD - Rat Research

Senior Fellow Michael Meaney’s work showed that rat pup genes could be turned on and off based on how the mother cared for them

The work of program fellows has galvanized scientific interest in the importance of early life experience. Increased understanding of biological embedding is helping them to test interventions that prevent or moderate the negative impact of early adversity, better understand its effects across multiple generations, and determine the optimal timing of education for children.

The program in Population Health, the precursor to Child & Brain Development, had a strong impact in the field, culminating in the publication of Why are Some People Healthy and Others Not?, an influential book which for the first time laid out the broad case for population health and was widely taught and reviewed.
Fruit Fly feeding on banana

Program Co-Director Marla Sokolowski’s work on fruit flies laid important ground in the genetic and molecular bases of natural individual differences in behaviour. Here a fruit fly with the “sitter” variant of a gene feeds on a banana

The program was founded in 2003 under the name Experience-based Brain and Biological Development, and is in its third five-year cycle. The current scientific agenda focuses on research to address the mediating, neurodevelopmental processes within the brain that likely underlie how genes and environments work together to affect individual trajectories of development and health.

Researchers with the program have made pioneering contributions to the study of the interplay between genes and the environment, including epigenetics. They have mapped, defined and modelled development and health disparities in human populations, and established animal models to simulate and explain the interaction of genes and environments in the genesis of illness and disordered development.

SELECTED PAPERS

Hertzman C, Boyce T. “How experience gets under the skin to create gradients in developmental health.” Annu Rev Public Health. 2010;31:329-47. Abstract

Boyce, W.T. & Kobor , M.S> (2015) Development and the epigenome: the ‘synapse’ of gene-environment interplay. Developmental Science, 18:1-23 Abstract

Kobayashi Y, Ye Z, Hensch TK. “Clock genes control cortical critical period timing.” Neuron. 2015 April 8; 86(1): 264-75. Abstract

Hensch, T.K. et al. “Local GABA Circuit Control of Experience-Dependent Plasticity in Developing Visual Cortex.” Science 282, 1504-1508 (1998). Abstract

Contact the program’s senior director, Pamela Kanellis

Program fellows & advisors

Program Directors

W. Thomas Boyce
W. Thomas Boyce
Program Co-Director

W. Thomas Boyce is a leading expert on the interplay between neurobiological and psychosocial processes, which leads to socially partitioned differences in childhood health, development and disease. Boyce’s research addresses the interplay among neurobiological and psychosocial processes leading to socially partitioned differences in childhood health and disease.

Marla Sokolowski
Marla B. Sokolowski
Program Co-Director and Weston Fellow

Marla Sokolowski’s innovative work is esteemed worldwide as a clear, integrative mechanistic paragon of the manner in which genes can interact with the environment, thus impacting behaviour.

Fellows

Anna Goldenberg

Anna Goldenberg

  • Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • University of Toronto
  • Hospital for Sick Children
  • Canada
Bryan Kolb

Bryan Kolb

  • Senior Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • University of Lethbridge
  • Canada
CandiceOdgers

Candice Odgers

  • Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • University of California Irvine
  • United States
Charles Nelson

Charles A. Nelson

  • Senior Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • Harvard University
  • United States
Daniela Kaufer

Daniela Kaufer

  • Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • University of California Berkeley
  • United States
David Clayton

David Forrest Clayton

  • Senior Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • Queen Mary University of London
  • United Kingdom
Janet Werker

Janet Werker

  • Senior Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • University of British Columbia
  • Canada
JoelLevine

Joel D. Levine

  • Senior Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • University of Toronto at Mississauga
  • Canada
Megan Gunnar

Megan R. Gunnar

  • Associate Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • University of Minnesota
  • United States
Michael Meany

Michael Meaney

  • Senior Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • McGill University
  • Canada
MIchael Kobor

Michael S. Kobor

  • Senior Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • University of British Columbia
  • Canada
Paul Frankland

Paul Frankland

  • Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • Hospital for Sick Children
  • Canada
Sara Mostafavi

Sara Mostafavi

  • Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • University of British Columbia
  • Canada
Stephen Suomi

Stephen Suomi

  • Senior Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • National Institutes of Health
  • United States
Takao Hensch

Takao K. Hensch

  • Senior Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • Harvard University
  • United States
Thom McDade

Thom McDade

  • Senior Fellow
  • Child & Brain Development
  • Northwestern University
  • United States

Advisors

Bio Outline

Elisabeth Binder

  • Advisor
  • Child & Brain Development
  • Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry
  • Germany
Gene Robinson

Gene Robinson

  • Advisor
  • Child & Brain Development
  • University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
  • United States
Nancy Adler

Nancy E. Adler

  • Advisor
  • Child & Brain Development
  • University of California San Francisco
  • United States
Sir Michael Rutter

Sir Michael Rutter

  • Advisory Committee Chair
  • Child & Brain Development
  • King's College London
  • United Kingdom

CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars

Ami Citri

Ami Citri

  • CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar 2016
  • Child & Brain Development
  • The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Israel
Brian Dias

Brian Dias

  • CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar 2017
  • Child & Brain Development
  • Emory University
  • United States
Kieran O'Donnell

Kieran O'Donnell

  • CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar 2016
  • Child & Brain Development
  • McGill University
  • Canada