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Cambridge Babylab

 

Being born is one of the most dramatic of human experiences. The fetus moves from the protection and relative monotony of the mother’s womb into a world of sound, colour, touch, smell, and taste. Faces and voices are among the most prominent new experiences and this first taste of our social world triggers rapid changes in brain function over the first days, weeks and months of early life.

The aim of the PIPKIN project is to track infant development, particularly the development of brain mechanisms related to social interaction, from the third trimester of pregnancy to the first few months of the infants’ life, investigating how the infant’s brain is shaped by social interactions and the environment around the child. We will use ultrasound to study the infant in the womb, and neuroimaging techniques such as Functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) and Electroencephalography (EEG) to track brain development over the first 6 months of life.

Research consistently shows an attainment gap between infants born into advantaged families, and those born into families where financial resources and educational opportunities are more limited. The project aims to study infants from a range of backgrounds in the hope that, in the longer term, we can use what we learn from this project to design family friendly interventions to ensure that infants from every walk of life have the best possible opportunity to develop to their full potential.

Bio

 

Dr. Sarah Lloyd-Fox: I am interested in studying how infants' cognitive abilities develop over the first year of life. I primarily use a neuroimaging technique known as functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), and have pioneered its use with infants over the last ten years. Specifically my work focuses on the investigation of cortical responses to social cues and the application of fNIRS to the study of compromised development. The latter includes the study of infants at risk for autism, and recent work taking fNIRS to rural Africa to study undernutrition. I am also pursuing technical advances in the use of fNIRS with infants to improve the precision and reliability of cortical measurements.

 

 

Dr Kaili Clackson: My PhD focused on studying how language is processed in the brain, and how this develops during childhood. On becoming a mother I felt bombarded with conflicting information and opinions about parenting and had many unanswered questions about how babies develop, what they need, and how parents can best support them. This turned me towards studying infant development, and I have since worked on projects at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (CBU), the University of East London (UEL), and a number of projects here in the Department of Psychology in Cambridge. I am particularly interested in how infants’ and children’s development is influenced by their surroundings, and how small changes in the child’s experience of the world can lead to differences in their learning and development. I feel strongly that science can play an important role in teaching us about what our children really need to give them the best possible start in life.

Miss Dianna Ilyka: I graduated from the University of Warsaw (Poland) with my Master thesis focused on how five-month-old infants perceive audio-visual speech. It was during that time that I understood that working with babies is not only enjoyable but can be crucial in unravelling the mysteries of the most complex organ in human body – the brain. 

I joined the Cambridge Babylab in October 2019 as a Marie-Sklodowska Curie Early Stage Researcher to pursue a doctoral degree, intending to investigate how social experiences following birth relate to infants’ development of brain mechanisms involved in the processing of social information. 

The topic of the project fully reflects my research interests. Understanding how environment shapes the developing brain can be crucial in informing us about the most thriving conditions for babies’ growth and in establishing effective interventions for those who are particularly vulnerable. As part of my research, I am also interested in working with infant-friendly neuroimaging techniques such as functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), and I hope to contribute to further optimization and use of these techniques in wider settings and with various populations.