Elika Bergelson Receives DIBS Research Incubator Award

Monday, December 10, 2018


Congratulations to P&N's Elika Bergelson for receiving a 2018-2019 Research Incubator Award from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. The awards provide seed funding to support collaborative brain science research for projects of exceptional innovation and broad significance to the field. The projects engage at least two faculty representing multiple fields or levels of analysis and bring together investigators from across Duke whose individual programs of research are not already connected. Each team will receive $100,000.

Bergelson's team includes Duke Professors Marty Woldorff (Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine, and Psychology & Neuroscience) and Sharon Freedman (Ophthalmology and Pediatrics, School of Medicine.) 

The project, "Early Language Development in the Visually Impaired," is summarized below:

Children with high levels of hearing loss who receive late intervention usually have poor language outcomes, but children with high levels of vision loss generally attain language abilities akin to typically developing peers. Blind adults and older children have largely indistinguishable language abilities from sighted individuals, although research reports some brain differences in responses to auditory and linguistic stimuli; however, early language abilities in young blind children have been very little studied. This is significant, given that vision loss effects >75,000 children under age 4 in the U.S. One major roadblock to understanding early language abilities under visual impairment is the lack of methods that can be used across blind and sighted infants. Reports from parents can be informative, but they may be subject to parental opinion. Direct assessments provide a more accurate measure of children’s receptive vocabulary; however, standard eye-tracking approaches (which measure the time infants spend looking at named objects) are not possible in blind infants. We propose to extend to blind infants the auditory-based electro-encephalography (EEG) paradigms that have been well-established with infants and toddlers developing typically. Uncovering how blind children learn and represent words will reveal how sensory impairment fundamentally shapes the developing brain, which will in turn inform our understanding of cognition and language more generally. These results also will inform potential training regimens that can mitigate language delays and deficits in both children and adults.

“These outstanding teams will investigate a wide range of topics in innovative and collaborative ways,” said Geraldine Dawson, PhD, Chair of the DIBS Faculty Governance Committee and Director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development. “We are excited to see the results of this research and the new collaborations that will emerge from it.”

The teams represent 11 departments in three schools: Biostatistics & Bioinformatics, Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, Neurobiology, Ophthalmology, Pediatrics, Pharmacology & Cancer Biology, and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, from the School of Medicine; Biomedical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, and Electrical & Computer Engineering, from Pratt School of Engineering; and Psychology & Neuroscience from Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.