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Brain Imaging Research Aims to Improve Outcomes for Children with Behavioral and Mental Health Problems


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A new era of childhood behavioral health is underway at Boys Town. Boys Town National Research Hospital and Boys Town Youth Care Services are collaborating in neuroscience research in the hopes of understanding what is physically and biologically happening in the brain of a troubled child.

Many of the children who come to Boys Town have serious mental health problems such as mood disorder​s, problems with impulse control, self-harm and aggression. The goal of this research is to improve behavioral assessment, distinguish individual types of cognitive difficulties and identify novel, evidence-based interventions to increase positive outcomes for all children with behavioral and mental health problems.

Boys Town has assembled some of the brightest minds in cognitive neuroscience including James Blair, Ph.D., as Director of the Center for Neurobehavioral Research in Children. Dr. Blair joins Boys Town after 12 years at the National Institute of Mental Health, where he served as Chief of the Unit on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience. Dr. Blair is internationally known for his significant insights into conduct disorders in children and adolescents and his talent in using brain imaging technology to study behavior traits.

“Dr. Blair's expertise in conduct disorder research fits directly into our strategic goals and our mission to help more children and families," said John Arch, Executive Vice President of Healthcare and Director of Boys Town National Research Hospital. “The future of behavioral health care will be guided by a greater understanding of brain activity and biology. This pairing will lead to better, more effective treatments for all children with behavioral and mental health problems."

Dr. Blair brings a team of highly-regarded neuroscientists from his previous research laboratory: Stuart White, Ph.D.; Karina Blair, Ph.D. and Harma Meffert, Ph.D. The team is conducting research studies focused on mood and anxiety disorders, disruptive disorders, substance abuse and web and computer-based therapeutics.

“Boys Town offers a unique environment with access to cutting-edge neuroscientific techniques and a population of youth facing the sorts of difficulties that have been largely neglected by researchers," said Dr. Blair. “Given that Boys Town is spread across the country, our discoveries can be translated to a broad base of clinicians faster and more efficiently, getting the best intervention methods to more children who need help."

To enable the work of Dr. Blair and his team, Boys Town Hospital has purchased the latest functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) technology that offers a safe, noninvasive way to better understand the functioning of the brain. The fMRI uses magnets, not radiation, to take real-time pictures to determine well a child's brain is functioning. Photos are taken before and after interventions to help researchers determine the best evidence-based solution for a child.

“Two children may show very similar defiant or problematic behaviors, but for very different reasons," said Dr. Blair. “Our research will help develop assessment tools that will uncover the cause of children's difficulties so we can more precisely target the intervention to really help the individual child."

Boys Town is on the leading edge of this work that will change the way America will care for children with beh​avioral and mental health disorders.

Watch Video Overview: Center for Neurobehavioral Research

Boys Town National Research Hospital 3T MRI and Patient Caring ​Suite

To schedule an interview with James Blair, Ph.D., or to request photos or b-roll of the research, contact:

Colin Crawford
Video Producer and Media Coordinator