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NIH Releases First Dataset from Adolescent Brain Development Study

February 23, 2018
by Heather Landi
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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the release of the first dataset from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, which will enable scientists to conduct research on the many factors that influence brain, cognitive, social, and emotional development.

To date, more than 7,500 youth and their families have been recruited for the study, well over half the participant goal.  Approximately 30 terabytes of data (about three times the size of the Library of Congress collection), obtained from the first 4,500 participants, will be available for research. The ABCD study is the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States, according to the NIH.

This interim release provides high-quality baseline data on a large sample of 9-and-10-year-old children, including basic participant demographics, assessments of physical and mental health, substance use, culture and environment, neurocognition, tabulated structural and functional neuroimaging data, and minimally processed brain images, as well as biological data such as pubertal hormone analyses. The data will be made available through the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Data Archive, which can be accessed by researchers who obtain a free NIMH Data Archive account. All personally identifiable information is removed from the data to ensure participant confidentiality and anonymity.

“By sharing this interim baseline dataset with researchers now, the ABCD study is enabling scientists to begin analyzing and publishing novel research on the developing adolescent brain,” Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said in a statement. “As expected, drug use is minimal among this young cohort, which is critical because it will allow us to compare brain images before and after substance use begins within individuals who start using, providing needed insight into how experimentation with drugs, alcohol and nicotine affect developing brains.” 

“Sharing ABCD data and other related datasets with the research community, in an infrastructure that allows easy query, data access, and cloud computation, will help us understand many aspects of health and human development.” Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIMH, said. “These datasets provide extraordinary opportunities for computational neuroscientists to address problems with direct public health relevance.”

This comprehensive dataset, which will be disaggregated by sex, racial/ethnic group, and socioeconomic status, will allow researchers to address numerous questions related to adolescent brain development to help inform future prevention and treatment efforts, public health strategies and policy decisions.

 “The collection and release of this baseline data is a crucial step in ongoing efforts to sharpen our understanding of the link between adolescent alcohol use and long-term harmful effects on brain development and function,” George F. Koob, Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), said.

The study aims to enroll a total of 11,500 children by the end of 2018. The next annual data release will include the full participant cohort.


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