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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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Boys Town Researchers Find that Cannabis Changes how the Brain Responds to Threatshttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/cannabis-changes-threat-responseBoys Town Researchers Find that Cannabis Changes how the Brain Responds to Threats2019-11-08T06:00:00Z<p>​​​Cannabis use is becoming increasingly acceptable in the United States with several states legalizing cannabis for medical uses, and some states moving to decriminalization of recreational usage. However, increased access to cannabis is also creating potential harms, especially for adolescents whose brains are still developing.</p><p>James Blair, Ph.D., Susan and George Haddix Endowed Chair in Neurobehavioral Research, and his research team at Boys Town National Research Hospital are interested in how cannabis and alcohol use affects neurodevelopment. They recently published a study where they measured brain activity in 43 male and 44 female adolescents, ages 14–18, who volunteered for the study.​<br></p><p>The researchers specifically looked at how the brain responds to threatening stimuli in young people with different levels of alcohol use disorder (AUD) or cannabis use disorder (CUD) symptoms [1]. The teens saw threatening (angry faces, predatory animals) or neutral images. These appeared to loom towards (or recede from) the adolescents who were lying in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. This scanner detects brain activity through localized changes in blood flow.<br></p><p>Dr. Blair’s team found that more severe CUD, but not AUD, symptoms were related to less responding to looming threats within brain structures such as the rostral frontal cortex and the amygdala. These are brain regions critically involved in emotional processing.<br></p><p>The ability to respond to threats is important for guiding people away from dangerous or risky choices. In other work conducted previously by Dr. Blair’s team, reduced responding to threat on the same task has been related to an increased risk for aggression and antisocial behavior. The link between increased CUD and reduced threat processing may underpin some of the recent findings linking cannabis abuse to aggression. There remains a lot that we don’t know how cannabis and alcohol affect developing brains, and what changes may become long-term changes. For a more detailed review of these findings see the paper Threat Responsiveness as a Function of Cannabis and Alcohol Use Disorder Severity [1].</p><h2>References</h2><ol><li>​Blair R.J.R., White S.F., Tyler P.M., Johnson K., et. al., (2019) <em>Threat Responsiveness as a Function of Cannabis and Alcohol Use Disorder Severity</em>. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 29(7):526–534.</li><li>Coker-Appiah D.S., White S.F., Clanton R., Yang J., Martin A., Blair R.J. (2013) <em>Looming animate and inanimate threats: The response of the amygdala and periaqueductal gray</em>. Soc Neurosci 8:621–630.<br></li></ol><h2>About Boys Town National Research Hospital</h2><p>Boys Town National Research Hospital offers a broad range of hospital and clinic services, backed by 40 years of life-changing research to provide the latest, most innovative care to our patients. The Hospital is internationally recognized as a leader in hearing research and clinical care and is leading research efforts in language and neuroscience to improve the lives of children and families across America.</p>​<br>
Boys Town National Research Hospital Receives NIH HEAL Initiative Grant to Address the Opioid Epidemichttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/Grant-to-Research-Opioid-ImpactsBoys Town National Research Hospital Receives NIH HEAL Initiative Grant to Address the Opioid Epidemic2019-10-10T05:00:00Z<p>​​Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha NE,​​ has been awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the amount of $552,000 as part of its Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or the NIH HEAL Initiative. Boys Town Hospital is one of 29 sites that will be taking part in the HEALthy Brain and Child Development Study (HBCD) as part of the NIH HEAL Initiative.  </p><p>The HBCD Study will establish a large cohort of pregnant women from regions of the country that have been significantly affected by the opioid crisis and follow them and their children for at least 10 years. Findings from this cohort will help researchers understand normative childhood brain development as well as the long-term impact of prenatal and postnatal opioid and other drug and environmental exposures. Boys Town Hospital has a long history of working with children and families dealing with sensitive health issues and is uniquely suited to help with this important research. </p><p>Led by James Blair, Ph.D.—Susan and George Haddix Endowed Chair in Neurobehavioral Research and Director, Center for Neurobehavioral Research in Children—Boys Town Hospital researchers will be investigating the impact of pre-natal exposure to opioids on brain, cognition and hearing development using a variety of imaging, behavioral testing and advanced statistics. According to Dr. Blair, “Children exposed to prenatal and postnatal drug abuse face considerable difficulties. To help these children, we need to understand how this exposure affects brain development. The HBCD study is an unprecedented opportunity to achieve this goal.”</p><p>According to Dr. Blair, “Recent work has told us much about how the first few years of life are a period of exponential brain growth and development. However, the effects of early exposure to opioids on normal infant and child development are unknown.”</p><p>The NIH launched the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative, to improve prevention and treatment strategies for opioid misuse and addiction and enhance pain management. The NIH HEAL Initiative has multiple focus areas and aims to improve treatments for chronic pain, curb the rates of opioid use disorder and overdose, and achieve long-term recovery from opioid addiction.</p><p>“It’s clear that a multi-pronged scientific approach is needed to reduce the risks of opioids, accelerate development of effective non-opioid therapies for pain and provide more flexible and effective options for treating addiction to opioids,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who launched the initiative in early 2018. “This unprecedented investment in the NIH HEAL Initiative demonstrates the commitment to reversing this devastating crisis.”</p><div><h2>About Boys Town National Research Hospital</h2><p>Boys Town National Research Hospital offers a broad range of hospital and clinic services, backed by 40 years of life-changing research to provide the latest, most innovative care to our patients. The Hospital is internationally recognized as a leader in hearing research and clinical care and is leading research efforts in language and neuroscience to improve the lives of children and families across America.</p>​<br></div>
The Vocal Development Landmarks Interview Helps Clinicians and Families Track Vocal Developmental Milestoneshttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/vocal-development-landmarks-interviewThe Vocal Development Landmarks Interview Helps Clinicians and Families Track Vocal Developmental Milestones2019-09-18T05:00:00Z<div class="embed-container">​​​ <iframe src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/AckEv3CcXtI" width="560" height="330" frameborder="0"></iframe> </div> ​ <p>Monitoring how babies progress through the early stages of vocal development is important for professionals and families, especially when infants have developmental challenges, such as cerebral palsy, hearing loss, down syndrome, cleft palate, or other special needs. It is essential that children who are at risk for speech and language delays are identified as early as possible so interventions can be tailored to minimize developmental risk. Drs. Mary Pat Moller and Sophie Ambrose at Boys Town National Research Hospital, along with Dr. Anne Thomas of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, developed the Vocal Development Landmarks Interview (VDLI) for this purpose. </p><p>They recognized that the best way for professionals to monitor an infants' vocal development is to ask the parents about the child's vocal productions. However, they also realized that a better tool was needed to allow professionals to do that. The VDLI is a parent-report instrument for infants and young children who are not developmentally ready to cooperate with more structured testing [1]. It incorporates what has been learned from years of laboratory-based observations about the orderly stages of vocal development that babies go through and involves parents as the best resource for understanding if their child is meeting these vocal milestones. </p><p>The VDLI design uses a series of digital slides with audio files containing authentic infant vocalizations to ensure parents know exactly what vocal behavior the professional is asking them to report on. The vocal behaviors are also arranged in developmental order, beginning with those typically observed by 6 months of age and ending with those typically observed by 21 months of age.</p><p>According to Dr. Ambrose, “The feedback we've gotten is that the tool really helps both parents and clinicians learn about behaviors to watch for and which behaviors to encourage the development of next in early intervention." She also indicated that clinicians reported wanting a tool that was easy to use with families in homes, which led the team to collaborate with the Technology Core at Boys Town National Research Hospital to create the VDLI as an iOS App that allows for maximum accessibility and portability. For more information on the VDLI, watch the included video in this article or access their recent publication cited below. For help with downloading the app and its related resources, you can contact Dr. Ambrose at sophie.ambrose@boystown.org. </p><h1>References</h1><ol><li>Moeller, M. P., Thomas, A. E., Oleson, J., & Ambrose, S. E. (2019). Validation of a parent report tool for monitoring early vocal stages in infants. <em>Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 62</em>(7), 2245–​2257. <a href="https://linkprotect.cudasvc.com/url?a=https://doi.org/10.1044/2019_JSLHR-S-18-0485&c=E%2c1%2cTyO9MT8ZeqKqTirqyM4xKxHff156PQsvhkojUIsEvKRTjCOZGYRCZtCYAtis0fB9fSOCsaPzhZ99XRXf3PmhDNSRbXQqOfmSbvP7fua6hmyPH2ofJQ%2c%2c&typo=1">https://doi.org/10.1044/2019_JSLHR-S-18-0485</a>​<br></li></ol>​​​​ <br>
Trauma-Informed Care is Critical for Youth Needing Residential Serviceshttps://www.boystownhospital.org/news/trauma-informed-care-critical-for-youthTrauma-Informed Care is Critical for Youth Needing Residential Services2019-08-26T05:00:00Z<p>​​​​​​​​Repeated exposure to trauma is extremely common for youth that end up in residential programs. Exposure to trauma changes these kids, <a href="https://www.boystownhospital.org/news/abuse-maltreatment-affect-brain-development"> even altering their brain development [1], </a>in ways that affect their responses to many aspects of their environment, including how they will respond to those people who are attempting to help them. In some cases, this means that attempts to treat kids unintentionally ends up traumatizing them further.</p><p>Boys Town, however, uses a trauma-informed car​e model that takes past trauma exposure into account in order to prevent the treatment from causing additional trauma. Additionally, Boys Town developed a screening instrument to identify possible symptoms youth may have related to past trauma [2]. Boys Town clinicians use this information to determine the supports and services youth need to help them heal. While this approach is widely accepted as the recommended approach for improving care in residential programs, research is also needed to support existing practices and to help us further improve how we take care of at-risk kids.</p><p>To help understand the benefits of our trauma-informed model, researchers at Boys Town, led by Patrick Tyler, Ph.D., recently conducted a study examining records for 1,096 youth from 9 to 18 years old who received Boys Town services. Their goals were to assess how trauma was associated with behavioral incidents, as well as the effects of trauma on psychological health at intake and when youth discharged from our program. [3]</p><p>Among the discoveries from their study, the researchers found that trauma symptoms were the best predictor of emotional problems and self-injury. Additionally, girls had higher rates of self-injurious behaviors than boys, whereas boys had higher rates of conduct problems at intake than girls in this study. Younger children also had higher rates of disruptive behavior compared to older children.</p><p>This study also showed that boys and girls who were grouped into either high or low trauma categories responded favorably to the trauma-informed program. Overall decreases were observed in disruptive and self-injurious incidents while in care, as well as conduct and emotional problems from intake to discharge for all of the groups. However, youth whom clinicians identified as having lower levels of trauma did have greater decreases in emotional problems.</p><p>A primary goal of Dr. Tyler’s team for this study was to determine how well the trauma-informed model has been working for youth that receive Boys Town services. Future studies will build on this by looking at best practices for incorporating trauma screening and assessment into the admission process in order to plan and provide the most effective care for our youth. Research is currently ongoing to identify strategies that can help youth with higher levels of trauma make even greater improvement.</p><h2>References<br></h2><ol><li>Blair K.S., Aloi J., Crum K., et. al. (2019) <em>Association of Different Types of Childhood Maltreatment With Emotional Responding and Response Control Among Youths</em> 2019 <strong>2</strong>(5). JAMA Netw Open.</li><li>Tyler, P.M., Mason, W.A., Chmelka, M.B., et. al. (2019) <em>Psychometrics of a Brief Trauma Symptom Screen for Youth in residential care</em> Journal of Traumatic Stress. doi: 10.1002/jts.22442. </li><li>Tyler P.M., Patwardan I., Ringle J.L., et. al., (2019) <em> <a href="https://assets.boystown.org/hosp_peds_docs/Trauma-Informed_Group_Homes_Tyler_et_al._2019.pdf"> Youth Needs at Intake into Trauma-Informed Group Homes ​and Response to Services: An Examination of Trauma Exposure, Symptoms, and Clinical Impression​</a>.</em> doi: 10.1002/ajcp.12364. Am J Community Psychol</li><ol></ol></ol>
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>​

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