Tony Simon, a neuroscientist with the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute, was recently awarded a five-year $2.6 million grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue his research on the gene linked to autism, schizophrenia and ADHD.
Simon, who has found that the deletion of the gene leads to various disorders, has been conducting research to discover how the brain changes when the deletion takes place.
“I want to explain why the learning difficulties come about and I want to fix those difficulties,” said Simon, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
The funding will allow Simon to continue his work and test hypotheses that help further his research.
“It’s a huge relief [to have received the grant] because we have built a really big program here and I think the M.I.N.D. Institute is a leader in the field of developmental disorders,” Simon said. “We want to see this through and we are excited to have another five years to research to help people understand this disorder.“
His research primarily focuses on brain development and the learning difficulties associated with the chromosome deletion. Simon has discovered that children with this particular deletion syndrome struggle to understand time, space and numbers, which he has termed “spatiotemporal hypergranularity.“
Ingrid Leckliter, licensed clinical psychologist and associate clinical professor of pediatrics, is involved with Simon’s research by conducting comprehensive assessments of children that have frequent or common mental health and developmental issues.
“I take [Simon’s] findings from his research and think about it in the context of children from my assessments, and see if we can form recommendations on how to help them,” she said.
Through his research, Simon has come to the conclusion that video games may be of some help to children who have difficulty processing space and time.
The grant will specifically be focused on testing out this hypothesis to see if video games will actually help these children.
“Work has been done showing that when college kids play action video games they increase their spatial and temporal knowledge,” Simon said. “They process things faster and more of it. If we build our own versions of video games, then we can actually retrain the brains of [children with the deletion].“
This will result in reducing the learning difficulties these children have. Leckliter hopes that in the next five years of research, more answers will be found.
“I’m hoping [research] gives us more insight into how children’s brains develop and how that impacts their functioning and ultimately whether or not we can do things that change their developmental pathways,” she said.
The M.I.N.D. Institute is an interdisciplinary research center where parents, community leaders, researchers, clinicians and volunteers collaborate to study and treat autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
CORY BULLIS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.