Colorado State University researchers get $3M to study children with Down syndrome



Colorado State University faculty members have received a five-year, $2.9 million National Institutes of Health grant to help improve therapy for children with Down syndrome.

Deborah Fidler and Lisa Daunhauer, researchers in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, will focus on identifying the best ways to measure cognitive function in children ages 2 to 8.

The pair will use a second $500,000 NIH grant to identify early indicators of attention difficulties in children with Down syndrome. 

The project involves studying 210 children over the course of a year, giving them play-based activities that involve the use of different aspects of executive function, which refers to the thinking skills needed for planning and problem-solving.

Fidler said in a news release that while executive function will be an important target for future therapies, researchers need an accurate and reliable way to measure these skills.

“Our findings will help researchers conduct treatment work … that can capture, with accuracy, whether executive function is improving or not,” she explained.

“Some of these games require that you resist your automatic response and choose a more considered response,” Fidler said. “How well do you resist what comes automatically to produce a response that is more regulated?”

Fidler and Daunhauer, lead investigators in CSU’s Developmental Disabilities Research Laboratory, and their team will work with about half of the children in the study, along with CSU Research Scientist Melissa George.

The other children will be working with partners at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; the University of California, Davis; and the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus.

Children with Down syndrome will be admitted to the study on a rolling basis, with two initial visits in the first two weeks and follow-up sessions at six months and one year.

In the second study, part of the NIH’s INCLUDE (INvestigation of Co-occurring conditions across the Lifespan to Understand Down syndromE) initiative, the researchers will identify risk for attention difficulties in 75 children with Down syndrome they had studied as infants.

Now that the kids are older, Fidler said they’ll be looking at certain indicators measured during infancy, and whether those who demonstrated indicators as babies ended up with greater attention difficulties.

Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. 


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