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OHSU Scientists Gauging Influence of Prenatal Meth Exposure on Learning and Memory

MRIs will measure brain activity of children ages 7 to 9 with possible history of drug exposure

Scientists at Oregon Health & Science University are using MRIs to study the potential effects of prenatal methamphetamine exposure on memory and learning ability.

Jacob Raber, Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral neuroscience and neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine, is leading the effort to determine whether children exposed to meth while in the womb experience measurable differences in cognitive ability. In the newest phase of the research, children ages 7 to 9 will perform a variety of tests inside a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner.

"We want to look at children in the scanner as they are taking the tests to see whether there is a difference in brain activity between children with prenatal meth exposure and those with no history of drug exposure," Raber said. "Ultimately, we want to understand which brain areas and cognitive abilities are affected. This knowledge can be used to improve our mouse models and to develop and assess a potential drug therapy to inhibit or even prevent the detrimental effects of meth exposure."

 Brian Piper, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Raber's lab, and Galena Kolchugina, a first-year medical student in the lab, are asking parents and guardians to enroll children ages 7 to 9 who were exposed to illicit drugs - primarily meth - during more than one month of pregnancy. Kolchugina's effort is being supported by a summer fellowship from the National Institutes of Health-funded Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute, whose mission is to transform how clinical and translational research is conducted, ultimately enabling researchers to provide new treatments more efficiently and quickly to patients.

Piper and Kolchugina also would like to test children ages 7 to 9 who were not exposed to any drugs, and who are from households with an annual income of less than $35,000, or from households that qualify for earned income credit or Medicaid. Siblings in this age range also are encouraged to participate in the study, as are children in foster care as long as the biological mother can be interviewed.

Testing will take place over the next several months. People who are interested in participating in the study outside and/or inside the scanner are encouraged to call and schedule an appointment immediately, even if they prefer not to take the test for a few months. The identities of the participants and their parents are confidential and will not be shared with the public or law enforcement.

The study outside the scanner will involve paper-based and computer-based tests, including a 3-dimensional, computer-generated virtual reality program called Memory Island that assesses spatial learning and memory. Participants are immersed in the simulated world and trained to navigate to specific locations. The participants are given several tries to navigate back to the targets based on memory. The study inside the scanner will involve two computerized tests, an object recognition test and the Memory Island spatial navigation test.

The two testing sessions will take up to two hours. Parking permits or bus fare will be provided to all study participants, and a $50 Toys 'R' Us gift certificate will be offered to those completing each of the two testing sessions.  


For more information about the study, call Brian Piper at 503 418-0182 or 503 494-1431.  


The human studies are supported, in part, by the Oregon Clinical Translational Research Institute.


About OHSU

Oregon Health & Science University is the state's only health and research university, and Oregon's only academic health center. OHSU is Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), with 12,400 employees. OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves patients from every corner of the state, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,400 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to every county in the state.

As a leader in research, OHSU earned $307 million in research funding in fiscal year 2007. OHSU serves as a catalyst for the region's bioscience industry and is an incubator of discovery, averaging one new breakthrough or innovation every three days, with more than 4,100 research projects currently under way. OHSU disclosed 132 inventions in 2007 alone, and OHSU research resulted in 33 new spinoff companies since 2000, most of which are based in Oregon.

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