All for the children

Sick children need targeted research, as their bodies differ from those of adults. Therapy developed for adults can therefore be only partially translated to treatments for children. “Research concentrated on the child gives us the urgently needed knowledge about the processes in the developing organism”, says Prof. Nadal, Head of the Children’s Research Center (Forschungszentrum für das Kind; FZK). Founded in 2010, the FZK unites and funds research groups of the University Children’s Hospital Zurich with the goal to coordinate and strengthen research on and for children. The interdisciplinary network of research and medicine drives rapid implementation of research results in the clinic.

Center for MR-Research
Neurosciences are well represented in the FZK. In the center for MR-Research headed by PD Dr. Ruth O’Gorman Tuura, the various aspects of the normal and aberrant development of the human brain are studied by structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy (MRS).

MRI and treatment of math problems
An exciting example of a FZK funded project concerns children with a learning disorder. Developmental dyscalculia (DD) is a specific learning disability that affects the acquisition of mathematical skills in children with normal intelligence. The project, led by neurobiologist Dr. Karin Kucian, had previously compared the brain regions involved in learning to deal with numbers in normal children and children with DD using MRI. “Our results suggest that the effectiveness of calculation may depend on the development of automated access to brain regions involved in quantity processing, and that the disorganization of this access can lead to problems with arithmetic”, says Dr. Kucian. The group went on to develop a computer-based training program to improve mathematical skills of children. The efficiency of the training was evaluated using neuropsychological tests and functional MRI. The results show that after training, task-related brain activation in the parietal lobe increased and that trained children relied less on frontal lobe areas of the brain that are involved in working memory and attention.

Awarded training program
In general, children with and without DD could benefit from the training. The program, called Calcularis, has therefore been further developed and made available to the public. Calcularis has recently won the prestigious Worlddidac Award 2014 for the successful transfer of a research project to the class room.
Media release (German)

University Children’s Hospital Zurich – Center for MR-Research