Current Research


Research Projects and Funding at IDEALab

The Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP)

Funder: National Institute of Mental Health

Description: This is a nearly 20-year longitudinal RCT of family-based care for children raised in Romanian orphanages. The goals of the study are to track neurodevelopmental trajectories in multiple domains over time, and to examine the capacity of family care to help facilitate recovery among children exposed to severe psychosocial deprivation. The study was initially developed and continues to be led by Charles Nelson, Nathan Fox, and Charles Zeanah, with Dr. Wade as Co-investigator. We recently received an R01 grant from NIMH to follow these individuals into early adulthood, when we plan to assess mental health, cognition, stress system responsiveness, brain structure, and social-emotional functioning.

Partners: Charles Nelson (Boston Children's Hospital); Nathan Fox (University of Maryland); Charles Zeanah (Tulane University); Katie McLaughlin (Harvard University); Margaret Sheridan (UNC-Chapel Hill); Kathryn Humphreys (Vanderbilt University)


Meta-Analyses of Early Life Adversity on Cognitive and Socioemotional Processes

Funder: Connaught New Investigator Award

Description: This is a series of meta-analyses examining the association between early-life adversity (ELA) and cognitive and socioemotional processes that underpin risk of mental health problems in children and adolescents. We are focusing on executive function and attention biases as two core developmental outcomes that we believe are differentially impacted by early-life deprivation and early-life threat, respectively. Moving forward, we have plans to examine other neurobiological and stress-related outcomes that are also implicated in the pathways connecting ELA to mental health difficulties in children and youth.

Partners: Katie McLaughlin (Harvard University); Margaret Sheridan (UNC-Chapel Hill)

Adult Cognition, Resilience, & Experience (ACRE) Study

Funder: SSHRC Insight Development Grant

Description: This is a study examining the differential effects of early-life threat and deprivation on neurocognitive and socioemotional processes during the early adulthood period (18-24 years). In addition to examining the link between early adversity and these developmental processes, we are interested in uncovering the factors that offset or buffer against adversity, so-called "benevolent childhood experiences." Thus, we are interested in the resilience-enhancing capacity of, for example, positive relationships with parents, teachers, and peers during childhood in mitigating later difficulties during early adulthood, a critical period of sociobiological change.

Partners: Dillon Browne (University of Waterloo); George Slavich (ULCA)

Child Resilience and Managing Pandemic Emotional Distress (CRAMPED) Families Study

Funder: SRCD Small Grant for Early Career Scholars

Description: This is a 4-wave longitudinal study (with planned follow up for 5th and 6th waves) examining the association between pandemic-related stress and disruption and the health and wellbeing of children and families. The study began in May 2020 and followed participants through Dec 2020, with follow-ups occurring in Sept and Dec 2021 (after widespread vaccine availability). The goal is to examine how pandemic disruption has increased vulnerability to mental health difficulties among children, the family-based processes through which these effects operate, and the factors that promote resilience and recovery to the stress and disruption emanating from the pandemic.

Partners: Dillon Browne (University of Waterloo);

Heather Prime (York University);

Jennifer Jenkins (University of Toronto)

Pandemic and Neurodevelopment: The Ontario Birth Study

Funder: CIHR Operating Grant

Description: This study will draw on data from the Ontario Birth Study to examine the effects of the pandemic and associated restrictions (e.g., school closures) on children's emotional and cognitive development over the first 3 years of life. With data collected before, during, and [putatively] after the pandemic, we will be able to compare the effects of pandemic stress/disruption and lockdowns on children's socioemotional and neurodevelopment during this critical period of development. As mothers are recruited during pregnancy, with longitudinal follow-up on their children postnatally, we will also be able to assess whether the timing of pandemic exposure (prenatal versus postnatal) is relevant with respect to children's development over time.

Partners: Julia Knight (Mount Sinai Hospital); Stephen Matthews (Lunenfeld Tanenbaum Research Institute & University of Toronto); Prakesh Shah (Mount Sinai Hospital & University of Toronto); Rayjean Hung ((Lunenfeld Tanenbaum Research Institute & University of Toronto); Robert Levitan (CAMH); Jennifer Jenkins (University of Toronto); Derrick Ssewanyana (Lunenfeld Tanenbaum Research Institute)

Love Together Parent Together (L2P2) Program

Funder: CIHR Operating Grant

Description: This project will adapt and pilot a couples-based intervention that targets relationship conflict during the pandemic among parents with young children. The early parenting years are a period of high stress and conflict for many couples, and these effects may be exacerbated during the ongoing pandemic. We require high-fidelity, easy-to-implement, and acceptable interventions to guard against partner conflict and prevent relationship deterioration. Such an intervention may have positive cascading benefits on children and families as a whole given the centrality of the inter-parental relationship to the integrity and functioning of the entire family. This study is a community-based project that will partner with local organizations and agencies to recruit couples with young children and test a short-term intervention that aims to restructure cognitions related to relationship conflict using a low-intensity and previously-validated program (the "Marriage Hack") during this unique period of development (early parenthood) and unique global crisis (COVID-19 pandemic).

Partners:  Heather Prime (York University); Amy Muise (York University); Lehana Thabane (McMaster University)

Alliance Against Violence and Adversity (AVA)

Funder: CIHR Training Grant

Description: The overarching goal of this project is to promote collaborative implementation science by training students in community-based research methods across Canada, with the stated aim of addressing violence against women and girls. The AVA platform is underpinned by best practices in EDI and GBA+, and endeavors to promote co-learning and mutual capacity building between trainees, academic mentors, community partners, and knowledge users. With 69 academic mentors and 81 community partners nationally, this project is the largest training platform of its kind ever designed in Canada to address violence against women and girls in Canada.

Partners:  Many community organizations and academics across Canada; led by Nicole Letourneau (University of Calgary)

Healthy Life Trajectories Initiative (HeLTI)

Funder: CIHR Team Grant

Description: HeLTI is a collaboration with the World Health Organization which consists of four separate but harmonized RCTs in Canada, India, South Africa, and China designed to evaluate whether maternal health promotion and supportive care beginning preconception and continuing into the postnatal period can improve the health of families and children. Ouur team was recently awarded a CIHR Team Grant to support the HeLTI India Project―also known as the EINSTEIN project―in which we will develop and implement measures of children’s cognitive and socioemotional development to test whether this intervention can positively alter developmental trajectories over the first five years of life. We are also collaborating on the HeLTI Canada project to develop new measures to assess early self-regulation and executive function appropriate for the infancy period.

Partners:  Kalyanaraman Kumaran (University of Southamptom); Stephen Matthews (University of Toronto); Manohar Prasad (Vivekananda Memorial Hospital); Prakesh Shah (Sinai Health System and University of Toronto); Dan Sellen (University of Toronto); Caroline Fall (University of Southampton); Marie-Claude Martin (Sinai Health); Elena Comelli (University of Toronto); Catherine Birken (Sick Kids Hospital and University of Toronto); Cindy-Lee Dennis (St. Michael's Hospital and University of Toronto); Stephen Lye (University of Toronto); Linda Booij (Concordia University); Catherine Draper (University of the Witwatersrand)

Impact of Maternal and Paternal Mental Health: Assessing Concurrent Depression, Anxiety and Comorbidity in the Family (IMPACT) Study

Description: IMPACT is a Canadian nationwide cohort study of the prevalence of maternal and paternal depression and anxiety during the transition to parenthood, and the relation between parental mental health difficulties in the pre/postnatal period and children’s development. This study has enrolled >3,200 mothers and their partners (usually fathers), and has collected data retrospectively during the prenatal period and prospectively at 3, 6, 9, 12, 18, and 24 months.  This is the largest study in Canada examining both mothers’ and fathers’ mental health during the transition to parenthood.

Partners:  Cindy-Lee Dennis (St. Michael's Hospital and University of Toronto); Simone Vigod (Women's College Hospital; University of Toronto); Sophie Grigoriadis (Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre; University of Toronto); Hilary Brown (Women's College Hospital; University of Toronto Scarborough); Sarah Brennenstuhl (University of Toronto); Kobra Falah-Hassani (University of Toronto); Rahman Shiri (Finnish Institute of Occupational Health); Flavia Marini (University of Toronto)