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School of the Biological Sciences

A Wellcome Discovery Award funds a new groundbreaking study characterising the development of the brain during childhood and adolescence in unprecedented detail.

A Wellcome Discovery Award has been awarded to Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore from the School of Biological Sciences (Psychology) at the University of Cambridge, together with colleagues at Cardiff University and the Donders Institute in The Netherlands. The award of £5,991,696 will fund research that aims to understand how the development of the brain at the microscopic level between the ages of 8 and 18 years is linked to cognitive and social-emotional development.

The funding will allow researchers to uncover new information about the changes that occur in the developing brain during late childhood and adolescence, with a focus on both neurotypical and neurodivergent development.

The research will also investigate brain development in children and adolescents with 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome. This is a genetic condition, caused by the deletion of ~40 genes on chromosome 22, which is associated with neurodevelopmental and mental health outcomes.

Professor Derek Jones, of the Brain Research Imaging Centre and School of Psychology at Cardiff University and lead PI on the grant, said: “The award will enable us to use advanced imaging techniques to study macroscopic and microscopic changes in the brains. Whilst broad changes in the brain during development are now relatively well established, much less is known about brain development at the level of the cell and the connections between cells“.

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore said: “This study will allow us to map brain development at a microstructural level, and link this to how children and adolescents develop in terms of their cognitive abilities, social and emotional processes and mental health."


Left to right: Professor Derek Jones (Cardiff), Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore (Cambridge), Professor Marianne van den Bree (Cardiff) and Professor Rogier Kievit (Netherlands)

Professor Marianne van den Bree, of the Neuroscience and Mental Health Innovation Institute at Cardiff University, said: “Late childhood and adolescence are crucial periods of life during which vulnerability to mental health issues tends to become manifest.

Professor Rogier Kievit at the Donders Institute, RadboudUMC, added: “We increasingly realize that to truly understand the development of the brain and challenges that might arise, we must study how the brains and behaviours of people change over time. This project will allow us a unique combination of spatial precision across a period of years to see how brain changes emerge and unfold“

The team of investigators hopes that the findings of their study will be applied in the future to facilitate early detection of mental health risk and provide an evidence base for longer-term interventions.

The funding aligns with the School of Biological Sciences Grand Challenge on ‘Mental Health and illness across scales, species, and society’, which brings together researchers in the School with expertise across multiple disciplines, from biological mechanisms, through to social and environmental factors linked to mental health.

Adapted from the University of Cardiff press release