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Translating research to change the way ​America ​​cares for ​​children and​ ​families.

We are internationally recognized ​as a leader in clinical and ​research programs ​​focusing on ​​​childhood ​​deafness, ​visual ​impairment and related communication disorders. In 2013, we began a new frontier in neurobehavioral research ​using brain ​imaging ​techniques to ​better ​​help diagnose ​​​​and treat troubled children with severe behavioral and mental health ​problems.

Areas of ​Research

 

 

Balance ResearchDoctor doing Vestibular Reseach https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/balanceBalance Research
Center for Perception and Communication in Children (COBRE Grant)Cobre Areahttps://www.boystownhospital.org/research/cobreCenter for Perception and Communication in Children (COBRE Grant)
Hearing and Speech Perception ResearchAudiologist tools on a medical charthttps://www.boystownhospital.org/research/hearing-speech-perceptionHearing and Speech Perception Research
Neurobehavioral Research3T MRI machinehttps://www.boystownhospital.org/research/neurobehavioralNeurobehavioral Research
Sensory Neuroscience ResearchDNA Strand - Researchhttps://www.boystownhospital.org/research/sensory-neuroscienceSensory Neuroscience Research
Speech and Language ResearchSpeech language research https://www.boystownhospital.org/research/speech-languageSpeech and Language Research

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News

Read the latest news about life-changing research at Boys Town National Research Hospital.​

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Functional Brain Imaging Shows How Maltreatment Affects Brain Developmenthttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/abuse-maltreatment-affect-brain-developmentFunctional Brain Imaging Shows How Maltreatment Affects Brain Development2019-06-20T05:00:00Z<p>Boys Town is recognized as a world leader in caring for kids in trouble, many of whom have been subjected to childhood trauma. Boys Town National Research Hospital is also home to research investigating the impacts of maltreatment on developing brains. Karina Blair, Ph.D. and her team at Boys Town Hospital recently published a paper titled, <em>Association of Different Types of Childhood Maltreatment</em><em> </em> <em>With</em><em> Emotional Responding and Response Control Among Youths</em> [1] that examines some of these issues. </p><p style="text-align:left;">Specifically, the authors looked at measures of brain function and behavior for 116 young people from 10–18 years of age who reported and rated their personal experiences with different types of abuse and neglect. The children and adolescents were either enrolled in Boys Town programs or from the surrounding community, and their families gave consent to the study with the option to withdraw at any time. The kids' brain activity was monitored while they performed a number counting task in the presence of distracting emotional images. This allowed Dr. Blair to determine the association of different forms of maltreatment on brain systems critical for task performance as well as emotional responding.  </p><p style="text-align:left;">The main findings of this study were the association of abuse, rather than neglect—at least, within this group of participants—with both difficulties with response control and heightened emotional responding.  Moreover, physical abuse was particularly associated with heightened threat responding. Sexual abuse was associated with a cascade of difficulties that were present even after the influence of other forms of maltreatment was statistically accounted for (Figure 1). </p> <img src="https://assets.boystown.org/hosp_peds_images/brainMRI.png" alt="Brain MRI" /> <p> <strong>Figure 1. The anterior cingulate region of the brain is importantly involved in emotional processing and shows overly increased responding in kids who have suffered sexual abuse. </strong>The colored areas in this image show the regions showing greater responding in kids who have suffered sexual abuse relative to those who have not.  The “hotter" the color, the more overly responding the region. </p><p style="text-align:left;"> </p><p style="text-align:left;">These findings are important because we know these kids need help. They may find themselves in dangerous situations and sometimes legal trouble.  We need to understand exactly what problems they face. Understanding their brain level-difficulties are part of the picture.  Moreover, the findings of this work suggest that maltreatment may have different impacts according to the form of maltreatment.  Indeed, sexual abuse may be associated with particularly severe brain-level difficulties.  Potential findings such as these may become the basis for assessing treatment success at the level of the individual. For a much more detailed description of their findings <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2734074" target="_blank"> <span style="text-decoration:underline;">see the article in JAMA Network Open</span></a> [1]. </p> <p>References </p><ol><li>Blair KS1, Aloi J2, Crum K3, Meffert, et. al. (2019) <em>Association of Different Types of Childhood Maltreatment </em> <em>With</em><em> Emotional Responding</em><em> </em> <em>and Response Control Among Youths</em>, 2019 <strong>2</strong>(5). JAMA Netw Open.  </li></ol>
Discussing the Neuroscience of Kids Facing Adult Justice Systemhttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/discussing-the-neuroscience-of-kids-facing-adult-justice-systemDiscussing the Neuroscience of Kids Facing Adult Justice System2019-06-12T05:00:00Z<p>The adult criminal justice system is often charged with determining the appropriate response to young children who have done bad things. However, these young child offenders are often also victims of abuse, pre-natal drug exposure and neglect. Trauma may change the brain's response to stressful situations and alter the child's ability to control unwanted behaviors. Courts must weigh these circumstances when considering whether the child should be charged as an adult.</p><p>Boys Town researchers are working to understand typical brain development as well as how this may be altered by stress using behavioral assessment tools and functional neuroimaging. In addition, for more than 100 years, Boys Town has been helping at risk youth and their families to change outcomes for the better. This combined experience puts us in an ideal position to provide judges with information relevant to their decisions about what to do with kids who end up in their courtrooms.</p><p>In partnership with the National Courts and Science Institute, Boys Town recently hosted a Neuroscience and the Law Workshop. Led by James Blair, Ph.D., Susan and George Haddix Endowed Chair for Neurobehavioral Research at Boys Town National Research Hospital, the judges were given an overview of current science on brain development and childhood trauma. In addition, judges and Boys Town staff held round table discussions covering case examples and how current knowledge may be applicable to judicial decision making. The judges were given a tour of facilities and technologies they may hear about in cases, and what those technologies can and cannot tell us about developing brains and mental health.</p><p>Advocating for youth, including those who end up in the criminal justice system but might be better served by therapy and intervention, is part of Boys Town's mission to help at risk youth. We appreciate the participation of the judges and hope that this meeting will be a model for future workshops as new discoveries are made.</p><div class="embed-container"> <iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5sXkqRfThlk?rel=0" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"></iframe> </div>​
Findings on Safe Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potential Testing in Children https://www.boystownhospital.org/news/findings-on-safe-vestibular-evoked-myogenic-potential-testing-in-childrenFindings on Safe Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potential Testing in Children 2019-06-11T05:00:00Z<p>The vestibular evoked myogenic potential (VEMP) test is something you may encounter if you or a family member are experiencing issues with balance or dizziness. The VEMP is a non-invasive test that uses short, intense sound stimuli to produce a muscle reflex in the eye or neck muscles. The muscle reflex is recorded with surface electrodes that attach to the skin over the muscle. The test specifically informs clinicians about the health of vestibular components of the balance system—the utricle and saccule organs of the inner ear (Figure 1).<br></p><p style="text-align:center;"> <img class="ms-rtePosition-4" alt="inner-ear-v2.jpg" src="https://assets.boystown.org/hosp_peds_images/inner-ear-v2.jpg" style="margin:auto;width:340px;height:268px;" />  </p> <strong style="font-size:0.87em;">Figure 1. Diagram of the inner ear. </strong> <span style="font-size:0.87em;">The inner ear in humans contains the auditory and balance systems. The utricle, saccule and semi-circular canals are central components of the balance system and process information about the head's position and movement in space. The cochlea is a central component of the auditory system.</span> <div> <span style="font-size:12.25px;"><br></span><span style="font-size:0.87em;"></span> <p>In children, VEMP responses are correlated with development of standing, walking, and posture control [1, 2]. Children with impaired vestibular function are more likely to achieve these milestones at a later age [3], and can benefit from rehabilitation.</p><p>While the VEMP test is used with children, most of what we know about the test is from research and clinical experience with adults. It is not uncommon for doctors to need to rely information from adults for pediatric procedures but, because children are physically different, this can come with risks. For the VEMP test, there is some risk that the intensity of sound stimuli used for testing in adults is too loud in children and can damage the specialized cells in the ear that are crucial for hearing in children. It's also possible that children will respond better to different frequencies of sound than adults.</p><p>Understanding how the balance system works and develops is the focus of Kristen Janky, Ph.D, in her Vestibular and Balance Laboratory at Boys Town National Research Hospital. In a recent paper, Janky and Amanda Rodriguez explored optimum conditions for completing VEMP testing in children and young adults. They found that young children, ages 4–9, required significantly lower sound levels to elicit normal VEMP responses compared to adolescents or young adults. However, they found that there were no differences in response to the standard 500 Hz and 750 Hz frequencies that are used in testing [4].</p><p> <strong>TABLE 1. Mean (SD) VEMP thresholds at 500 Hz and 750 Hz for adults, adolescents, and children.</strong></p><table class="ms-rteTable-default" width="100%" cellspacing="0"><tbody><tr><td class="ms-rteTable-default" style="width:20%;"> <strong> </strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default" style="width:20%;"> <span style="text-decoration:underline;"><strong>500 Hz</strong></span></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default" style="width:20%;">​</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default" style="width:20%;"> <span style="text-decoration:underline;"><strong>750 Hz</strong></span></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default" style="width:20%;">​</td></tr><tr><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> </td><td class="ms-rteTable-default">Mean <br>(dB SPL)</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default">Standard Deviation<br> (dB SPL)</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default">Mean <br>(dB SPL)</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default">Standard Deviation<br> (dB SPL)</td></tr><tr><td class="ms-rteTable-default">Cervical VEMP Threshold<br> Response (dB SPL)</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong> </strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong> </strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong> </strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong> </strong></td></tr><tr><td class="ms-rteTable-default">Adults</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>111.5</strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>3.25</strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>112</strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>2.61</strong></td></tr><tr><td class="ms-rteTable-default">Adolescents</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default">107.5</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default">4.85</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default">109.5</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default">3.68</td></tr><tr><td class="ms-rteTable-default">Children</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>106</strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>4.63</strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>106</strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>3.91</strong></td></tr><tr><td class="ms-rteTable-default">Ocular VEMP Threshold Response (dB SPL)</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong> </strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong> </strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong> </strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong> </strong></td></tr><tr><td class="ms-rteTable-default">Adults</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>116</strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>3.94</strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>117</strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>3.49</strong></td></tr><tr><td class="ms-rteTable-default">Adolescents</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default">112.5</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default">4.81</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default">114.5</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default">2.83</td></tr><tr><td class="ms-rteTable-default">Children</td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>111.1</strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>4.10</strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>112.2</strong></td><td class="ms-rteTable-default"> <strong>4.17</strong></td></tr></tbody></table><p> <em>Bold values represent significant differences. Children showed lower cervical and ocular VEMP thresholds compared to adults.</em></p><p>This research will help children by providing guidelines for safe VEMP testing in children, and keeping children's ears safe from possible injury. Experienced audiologists will already be careful with the ears of their young patients, but this knowledge will give them a better testing range, and information about what is normal responsiveness. For additional experiments, details and the authors' conclusions check out their paper, <em>Air-Conducted Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potential Testing in Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults: Thresholds, Frequency Tuning, and Effects of Sound Exposure</em>.</p><p>Thanks to the research volunteers for this study. Our volunteers included 10 children, ages 4–9, 10 adolescents, ages 10–19, and 10 young adults, ages 20–29.</p><h2>References<br></h2><ol><li>Wiener-Vacher, S.R., F. Toupet, and P. Narcy, <em>Canal and otolith vestibulo-ocular reflexes to vertical and off vertical axis rotations in children learning to walk.</em> Acta Otolaryngol, 1996. <strong>116</strong>(5): p. 657-65.</li><li>Wang, S.J., W.S. Hsieh, and Y.H. Young, <em>Development of ocular vestibular-evoked myogenic potentials in small children.</em> Laryngoscope, 2013. <strong>123</strong>(2): p. 512-7.</li><li>Inoue, A., et al., <em>Effect of vestibular dysfunction on the development of gross motor function in children with profound hearing loss.</em> Audiol Neurootol, 2013. <strong>18</strong>(3): p. 143-51.</li><li>Rodriguez, A.I., M.L.A. Thomas, and K.L. Janky, <em>Air-Conducted Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potential Testing in Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults: Thresholds, Frequency Tuning, and Effects of Sound Exposure.</em> Ear Hear, 2019. <strong>40</strong>(1): p. 192-203.</li></ol></div>
NIH awards $11 Million Grant to Boys Town National Research Hospital to Study Communication and Perception in Childrenhttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/nih-grant-awarded-communication-researchNIH awards $11 Million Grant to Boys Town National Research Hospital to Study Communication and Perception in Children2019-04-16T05:00:00Z<p>Boys Town National Research Hospital has received an $11 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). </p><p>The five-year Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant is set to expand the range of existing, highly successful research programs at the Boys Town National Research Hospital and tackle more complex issues that directly address the problems encountered by children with hearing loss.</p><p>Core research programs covered by the grant will investigate issues related to: </p><ul><li>Speech understanding for young listeners with cochlear implants</li><li>Diagnosis and outcomes for children with otitis media, an inflammatory condition of the inner ear</li><li>Strategies used by children to overcome working memory limitations</li></ul><p>Related projects that will receive funding cover multiple labs and include, examining the impact of hearing loss in real-world environments like classrooms, the contributions of bottom-up and top-down processing in children learning English as a second language, how visual and auditory information work together in speech and language learning, and the consequences for visual processing of vestibular deficits associated with hearing loss.</p><p>Lori Leibold, Ph.D., is the primary investigator on the grant and Director of the Center for Hearing Research. Dr. Leibold notes that, "Our goal is to become the national leader for research on speech, language, hearing, and cognitive development in ​children with communication disorders. We believe we are close to achieving this goal, in large part due to this NIH award that has allowed us to grow our research program and provide the resources these young investigators need to be successful."</p><p>This is the second round of COBRE grant funding for Boys Town Hospital. The first $11.3 million grant was awarded in 2014 and has contributed to Boys Town Hospital recruiting several world-class senior scientists, hosting more than 60 experts from around the country for research talks, sparking many new collaborations. The 2014 grant also established a state-of-the-art Auditory-Visual Core facility that supports research using techniques such as augmented and virtual reality.</p><p>"Scientists and other professionals supported by this grant are the next generation in the 40-year legacy of Boys Town Research," states Director of Research, Ryan McCreery, Ph.D., who also notes that "this additional five years of support from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) is recognition for the high-impact translational research that our scientists do every day. Their research has the potential to improve the lives of people with hearing and communication problems."</p><p>The new COBRE grant award will have lasting impacts on research in Nebraska and the surrounding region by providing mentoring and resources for the young investigators needed to sustain a thriving research community. The grant also includes a strategic sustainability and development plan for core facilities that expand the technical capabilities of individual labs at Boys Town National Research Hospital and collaborating institutions. The benefits of this grant will be far reaching for Boys Town and for Nebraska, supporting our scientific community and high-skill jobs in Omaha and beyond.​</p>
Chatterjee Group Study Published in Nature Scientific Reportshttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/understanding-pitch-with-cochlear-implants-studyChatterjee Group Study Published in Nature Scientific Reports2019-02-08T06:00:00Z<p>​Monita Chatterjee, Ph.D., Director of Auditory Prostheses and Perception lab, recently co-authored an article published in Nature Scientific Reports. Dr. Chatterjee worked with collaborators in Canada, Taiwan and San Francisco to test children with cochlear implants on their ability to differentiate pitch inflections.<br></p><p>One downside of cochlear implants is that they don't adequately transmit pitch information, which can be problematic in languages where tone is crucial to comprehension.</p><p>In tone languages such as Mandarin Chinese, the lexical tone (pitch inflections within spoken syllables) can define a word. For example, the same word spoken with a rising or falling pitch might have very different meanings. Dr. Chatterjee's group set out to determine if native Mandarin-speaking children with cochlear implants have a greater sensitivity to changes in pitch compared to English-speaking children with cochlear implants. They hypothesized that immersion in a tone-language environment from birth would help the Mandarin-speaking children to process pitch changes better than English-speaking children in the US.</p><p>"Even for children who are implanted early, the adaptability of their brains to catch the differences in pitch is very limited," Dr. Chatterjee said. "It's a major device limitation."</p><p>Dr. Chatterjee and her collaborators tested 97 children in Taiwan and 97 children in the US on two pitch perception tasks. Each test group had both normal hearing children and children with cochlear implants.</p><p>"Compared to children speaking English in the US, children with normal hearing in Taiwan who speak a Mandarin showed an advantage in both tasks," Dr. Chatterjee said. "Children with cochlear implants who spoke Mandarin showed large deficits in both tasks, which was expected, but even they showed the tone-language advantage in labeling the changes in pitch."</p><p>Results of the study have concluded that the demands of a tonal language have helped Mandarin-speaking children with cochlear implants develop a better ability to determine pitch changes. While their ability is limited and the sound quality is still highly degraded, the results suggest that the natural training provided by one's native language can substantially affect young brains' ability to perceive sounds.</p><p> <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-36393-1">The full report can be read here.</a></p><p>According to their website, Nature Scientific Reports is a weekly international publication for peer-reviewed research in scientific and technological fields. The research is published based on originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions.<br></p><p> <br> </p>
Chatterjee Article Awarded as 2018 Technical Area Pickhttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/musician-advantage-effect-studyChatterjee Article Awarded as 2018 Technical Area Pick2018-11-21T06:00:00Z<p>​The "musician advantage effect" is an auditory phenomenon used to explain how musicians can sometimes achieve better speech recognition in noisy backgrounds than non-musicians. A recent article co-authored by Monita Chatterjee, Ph.D., Director of the Auditory Prostheses and Perception Laboratory at Boys Town National Research Hospital, titled <a href="https://asa.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1121/1.5005496"><em>Similar abilities of musicians and non-musicians to segregate voices by fundamental frequency</em></a><em> </em>was selected as the Technical Area Pick for Psychological and Physiological Acoustics. The article was chosen among all the articles from the same technical field published in the past year in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (JASA).</p><p>It is not known what causes the "musician advantage", but one hypothesis is that it arises from better pitch processing by musicians, which might allow them to better track the target talker's voice and separate it out from competing talkers or background noise. The authors conducted a series of studies with musicians and non-musicians to test this hypothesis.</p><p>In these studies, they tested listeners' ability to detect target voices embedded in competing backgrounds. In addition, listeners heard a beeping tone with the same pitch as the target voice, presented before they heard the speech and designed to focus the listener's attention specifically to the target voice. In another case, the pitch of the tone was designed to deliberately mislead the listeners. If musicians benefit from pitch processing, they should show a stronger response to these helpful or confusing tones than non-musicians. The results confirmed the musician advantage, but did not show the predicted effects of manipulating the pitch cues. The authors concluded that the musicians' advantage in hearing speech in background noise does not in fact stem from a better ability to process the target speaker's voice pitch.</p><p>Dr. Chatterjee is the principal investigator and lab director of the <a href="http://hospital.boystown.org/research/HearingResearch/Pages/AuditoryProsthesesAndPerceptionLaboratory.aspx">Auditory Prostheses and Perception Laboratory</a> at Boys Town National Research Hospital. She also co-directs the Technology Core, as part of the <a href="http://hospital.boystown.org/research/COBRE/Pages/default.aspx">Center for Perception and Communication in Children</a>. The primary goal of her research is to understand basic mechanisms underlying auditory and speech perception by individuals with normal hearing, hearing loss, and cochlear implants. Experiments include psychophysical measures of listeners' sensitivity to subtle differences between sounds, measures of listeners' sensitivity to speech intonation and lexical tone recognition, and the processing of degraded speech by the normal and impaired auditory system.<br></p><p><br></p>

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