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Listening to Mom in the NICU: Neural, Clinical and Language Outcomes

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? DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): I am a developmental cognitive neuroscientist. My overall career objectives are to develop effective methods to prevent, diagnose and alleviate language and related learning disabilities in children. I aspire to perform translational neuroscience research either as a faculty member in a psychology or neuroscience department or as a clinical research faculty in a pediatric or neurology department. To become an independent scientist capable of designing, administering, and assessing interventions for improving language outcomes in children, I require additional training in randomized clinical trial methodology, including biostatistical analyses. I will obtain this training by taking selected coursework at Stanford, participating in professional activities and workshops, and performing a RCT that I have independently developed. I have organized a team of international scientific experts who are committed to helping me achieve these skills and career goals. Children born preterm are at-risk for developmental language delays. Language problems in preterm children are thought to be related to neurobiological factors, including injuries to white matter structures of the brain and environmental factors, including decreased exposure to maternal speech in the hospital nursery. There is strong evidence to suggest that maternal speech input may be important for promoting healthy brain and language development. Recently, several studies have demonstrated that recordings of a mother's voice played to preterm infants in hospital nurseries can improve short-term health outcomes. Here, we propose a randomized clinical trial to examine whether exposure to recordings of a mothers voice can improve both white matter and language development in preterm infants. We will assess both the short and long-term impacts of this language intervention on neural, clinical and language outcomes. Findings from the proposed study will have important implications for guiding clinical practices and treatments for minimizing language impairments in preterms and other pediatric populations at-risk for language disorders. The studies proposed here have the potential to advance understanding for how language experience directly influences changes in brain structures as well as for the neural bases of recovery following early white matter injury and for plasticity. In summary, the proposed studies will make important contributions to theoretical research on brain and language development and to clinical practice.

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