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For Wayne State scientist, the brain is a work of art

April 24, 2013

Moriah Thomason, a developmental neuroscientist at Wayne State University and assistant professor of pediatrics, is doing groundbreaking research on brain connectivity in fetuses and children. Her research, which has the potential to lead to better understanding - and future treatment - of a range of conditions, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism and depression, is funded in large part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Many of the expecting mothers Thomason sees as part of the WSU project are depressed - about 28 percent, which is much higher than average. A mother's depression can influence a child's chance of depression as well. In February, Thomason's innovative research appeared in Science Translational Medicine, a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She scanned the brains of 25 fetuses between 24 and 39 weeks. She used functional magnetic resonance imaging to map the connections between various areas of the brain. This research is a collaboration between Wayne State's medical school and the NIH, which houses its Perinatology Research Branch at the university. NIH chose this location in 2002 because of Detroit's high number of pre-term births; and the agency recently announced it would renew the university's contract for another 10 years. Matt Lockwood, communications director at Wayne State University, says this is the only such lab in the country and the university is pleased the contract was renewed. "We're proud of it," he says. Roberto Romero, the obstetrician and gynecologist who heads the Detroit NIH branch, says Thomason's work will have "international impact." He says such research would be expected at universities like Harvard and Yale, but perhaps not at Wayne State. "This pioneering work is here in Detroit," Romero says. "People in Michigan should be proud."