Can deviation from normal neurobiological development in children due to early life stress be tested with saliva sample?

Mol, November 6, 2014VITO (new window) announced today that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations (new window) winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (new window). Dr. Patrick De Boever, project manager and research scientist in Sustainable Health, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled Neurobiological Resilience Predicted with Salivary Stressome. Early life stress initiates a cascade of biological changes that may lead to deviation from normative neurobiological development. The goal of this research is to establish the utility of saliva as a novel non-invasive and convenient source for a comprehensive biological profile reflective of current and previous stress exposure. Dr. De Boever will be collaborating with Dr. Stacy Drury, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Tulane University (New Orleans, US) and Director of the Behavioral and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Laboratory (new window). This grant will enhance their innovative international collaboration, leveraging the expertise of both organizations as together they seek to use cutting edge molecular technologies to improve child health and neurodevelopment across the globe.

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Dr. De Boever’s project (new window) is one of 61 Grand Challenges Explorations grants, representing 19 countries wordwide, awarded today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from over 2700 proposals. Dr. De Boever is the 3rd Belgian receiving this prestigious grant.

While the consequences of stress exposure can be readily observed in adults, identification of useful biomarkers in children remains challenging. The first straws of allostatic load or the so-called " wear and tear on the body begin during childhood, initiating a cascade of biological changes and deviation from normative neurobiological development. However, in youth, the final common negative consequences (i.e. hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, depression) may not yet be apparent.

The goal of the current research project is to establish the utility of saliva as a novel non-invasive and convenient source for a comprehensive biological profile reflective of current and previous stress exposure. The research team will create the first comprehensive data set containing methylation data, mRNA and miRNA expression levels, genotype, and telomere length from saliva in children from infancy to 15 years of age during an acute psychosocial stressor. These biological profiles will then be used to examine alterations in stress reactivity as a result of Early Life Stress, the relation to multiple neurobiological outcomes, and the trajectory of neurobiological development.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations (new window) is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (new window). Launched in 2008, over 1070 projects in more than 60 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.

About VITO (Flemish Institute for Technological Research)

VITO is a leading European independent research and consultancy centre in the areas of cleantech and sustainable development, elaborating solutions for the large societal challenges of today. VITO provides innovative and high-quality solutions, whereby large and small companies can gain a competitive advantage, and advises industry and governments on determining their policy for the future. VITO has 750 highly-qualified employees who work on international projects all around the world, from Australia to Canada or India. VITO’s headquarters are located in Mol, Belgium. In China, VITO has a joint-venture, called LIBOVITO, with 15 employees. The total turnover of VITO amounted to 131 million euros in 2013.

Climate change, food security, resource scarcity, sustainable energy, obsolescence… VITO’s research agenda tackles the major societal challenges we are facing today, with overall focus on cleantech. The result is five different research programmes: sustainable chemistry, energy, health, materials management and land use. Each programme builds up a strong base of knowledge and skill, with added value for industry and society. The result is new and innovative research and a comprehensive range of scientific services.

In VITO's five areas of expertise, a societal transition is taking place or is urgently needed. Smart grids, intensive re-use of resources, a bio-based economy, all these developments require new and better sustainable technologies, as well as a change in mindset. That's why VITO is working hard on sustainability and transition thinking as binding factors between the five research programmes.

For more scientific information, please contact:
Stacy Drury
Tulane University
New Orleans, USA


Grand Challenges Exploration Grant
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