Multisystemic Therapy in Justice-Involved Juveniles: Mitigating the Effects of Inequality on Neurodevelopment and Ability to Succeed

Penn State Social Science Research Institute (SSRI)

For this pilot study we will explore the neurodevelopmental effects of MST in the context of social influences (e.g., family, parenting, neighborhood, SES) and behavioral changes in adolescents referred for MST.  The pilot study will begin by establishing the feasibility of recruiting from this population and collecting behavioral, cognitive and emotion regulatory data from 30 adolescents who have completed MST.  We expect that some will show more favorable responses to MST than others, based on behavioral surveys and reports from MST providers, thus enabling us to evaluate whether level of neurodevelopment correlates with program outcomes. This pilot will support a NIH R01 to conduct a full study to predict MST outcomes on the basis of these individual-level characteristics and determine whether change in neurodevelopment occurs in those who respond well to the program. 

     Support for our hypotheses will lead to greater precision in targeting MST to subgroups most likely to respond well and revising the program or designing new programs to better serve those less likely to do well based on pre-existing characteristics.  Moreover, we believe that findings showing measurable change in development of the adolescent brain in response to a psychosocial program of this nature would compel the further scaling of such programs and have potential to alter policies that address the needs of vulnerable youth.

Transdisciplinary Approach to Understand Variability in Preventive Intervention Outcomes

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) RO1

This study is the first in-depth intervention trial to incorporate recent findings from neuroscience into developmental psychology and prevention science to better understand why many children do not respond favorably to universal school-based preventive interventions; what features distinguish them from good responders and how do they operate to influence intervention effects? Answering these questions will lead to more effective ways to improve behavioral and academic performance in the greatest number and to more efficiently direct developmentally sensitive program components to the highest-risk children. Early school-aged children (kindergarten through second grade) were evaluated for neurocognitive, emotional regulatory and stress physiological functioning to determine their role in intervention effects. This approach represents a substantial innovation with invaluable implications for public health by reducing behavioral and drug abuse disorders in youths, thereby addressing rising pressures toward accountability and maximization of impact.

Mechanisms Underlying the Relationship between Sleep Problems and Drug Use in Adolescents

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) R01

This prospective, longitudinal R01 study is designed to elucidate mechanisms underlying the relationship between sleep ‎problems and propensity to drug/alcohol use in adolescents, from age 10 through 20. Our integrative, temporal model theorizes that ‎sleep problems will be significant predictors of drug/alcohol initiation and escalation of use in adolescents. ‎We propose further that this relationship can be explained at least in part by emotion dysregulation, as ‎measured by tasks that recruit affective limbic structures and perturbations in neuroendocrine (cortisol) ‎functioning. Level of cognitive functioning will moderate the relationship between sleep problems and drug ‎use. Exposure to prolonged stress is expected to amplify the mediational relationship. Finally, the model ‎predicts that eventual drug use will exacerbate sleep problems and lead to further decrements in sleep, ‎emotion regulation, and cognition, promoting an escalating pattern of use. ‎

Developmental fMRI Study of Alcohol Use in Adolescence

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) R01

This fMRI ‎study comprehensively assesses and follows a relatively large cohort of substance naïve adolescents (aged 11-13 at baseline) over a five year period to prospectively ‎identify neurodevelopmental precursors of alcohol use initiation and escalation, and subsequent neurocognitive ‎consequences of alcohol use and heavy drinking. We also have a CRAN supplement to expand this work to other abusable substances. Illuminating the risk factors for and effects of alcohol use on ‎the development of neurocognitive skills has implications for designing interventions aimed at developmental ‎cognitive and emotional regulatory processes, especially since such impairments can undermine intervention ‎efforts.

CRAN Supplement to Developmental fMRI Study of Alcohol Use in Adolescence

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Administrative Supplement – CRAN

This administrative supplement expands the purview of this study to include polysubstance abuse during adolescence. The aims are to (a) collect and analyze data on polysubstance use in a study of alcohol use; (b) investigate polysubstance use patterns in adolescents; and (c) examine trajectories of polysubstance uptake and persistence over time. Thus, various emergent substance use pathways (including single drug use vs. polysubstance use vs. no use) from baseline (pre-use) during a period of development when initiation is common, will be modeled. While distinctive patterns of polysubstance use generally do not emerge until late in adolescence, our longitudinal design allows us to examine the effects of the experimental phase of adolescent drug usage.

Primary and secondary reward processing in healthy children

PSU Social, Life and Engineering Sciences Imaging Center (SLEIC) Award 06/01/2016

In this pilot project we are considering the extent to which neural substrates of different types of reinforcers (money and food) correspond in healthy children (8-10 years).  Data obtained in this project will serve as preliminary data for a study of the impact of food insecurity on reward neurobiology in children.

Advancing Transdisciplinary Translation for Prevention of High Risk Behaviors

National Institute on Nursing Research, R13

Physiological Co-Regulation of Stress between Maternal Caregivers and their Children: A Translational Science Pilot Study

UMSOM Department of Psychiatry

This pilot is designed to support a larger study that will contribute to an understanding of how family members respond to stress and how their responses impact one another’s physiology and behavior. Preliminary data will be applied to an R01 examining (a) the interdependent or transactional nature of the psychophysiological stress responsivity within the mother-child relationship and (b) whether selected moderators (childhood and/or current trauma, traumatic stress symptoms (TSS), attachment, or quality of parenting) alter the pattern of responding.

Penn State Biomedical Big Data to Knowledge (B2D2K) Training Program

National Institute of Health; T32

This Training Program at The Pennsylvania State University will bring together Data Science researchers and educators from 5 colleges at Penn State: the Colleges of Science, Engineering, Health and Human Development, Information Sciences and Technology, and Medicine, and Geisinger Health System to create a truly transformative multi-disciplinary predoctoral training environment. The goal of the B2D2K program is to train a diverse cohort comprising the next-generation biomedical data scientists with a deep knowledge of Data Science to develop novel algorithmic and statistical methods for building predictive, explanatory, and causal models through integrative analyses of disparate types of biomedical data (including Electronic Health Records, genomics, behavioral, socio-economic, and environmental data) to advance science and improve health.  For more information about the B2D2K Training Program visit:

Prevention and Methodology Training Program

National Institute on Drug Abuse; T32

The interdisciplinary Prevention and Methodology Training Program (PAMT) trains pre-doctoral graduate students and post-doctoral researchers interested in prevention science and statistical methodology. PAMT is funded by the National Insitute on Drug Abuse through a T32 grant to two well-established and vibrant research centers at Penn State: the Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center and the Methodology Center. PAMT's purpose is to produce scientists trained in the integration of prevention science and statistical methodology, and it offers a unique opportunity for highly motivated pre- and post-doctoral researchers to continue their training in a synergistic environment that includes some of the top prevention scientists and methodologists in the country. 

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Completed Grants

Needs Assessment for the Living Classrooms Foundation


France Merrick Foundation

Total Direct Costs: $80,000

United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime: Commissioned to write etiology section of Drug Abuse Prevention policy document and design training curriculum for policy makers world-wide.


Total Direct Costs: $15,000

Manganese Exposure and Neurodevelopment in Children


National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences, R21

Total Direct Costs: $500,000 (in no cost extension)

Age-17 Follow-up of Home Visiting


National Institute on Drug Abuse, R01

Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Marijuana Use and Neurodevelopment


National Institute on Drug Abuse, R01

Total Direct Costs: $1,744,310

Creating the Scientific Infrastructure for the Promise Neighborhood Initiative


National Institute on Drug Abuse, GO Grant

Effects of Yoga on Physiological and Behavioral Precursors of Drug Abuse


National Institute on Drug Abuse, R03

Psychopathy: a Human Model of Deception


DARPA Contract via Georgetown University

fMRI of Biphasic Alcohol Effects


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, R21

Weak Prefrontal DC Stimulation and Tobacco Craving


National Institute on Drug Abuse, CEBRA

Neurocognitive Function in Russian Heroin Addicts


National Institute on Drug Abuse, R01

Precursors, Insulators and Consequences of Inhalant Abuse


National Institute on Drug Abuse, R01

Neurocognitive Prerequisites for Prevention of Adolescent Drug Abuse  


National Institute on Drug Abuse, R01

Development Plan for a Targeted Program Approach for Treatment Resistant Inmates


National Institute of Corrections, Cooperative Agreement

Neuropsychological and Emotional Deficits Predict Correctional Treatment Response


National Institutes of Justice


Girls Study Group


Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention


ECF and Problem Behaviors Among Children of Crack Users


National Institute on Drug Abuse, B-START

Development of a Technique to Assess the Functional Neuroanatomy of Drug Abuse


Office of National Drug Control Policy, contract

Neighborhood Drug Abuse Prevention Initiative


Office of National Drug Control Policy Legislatively Allocated Award


Neurometric Evaluation of Correlates of Antisocial Behavior


NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship