Yale Center for Study of Learning Wins $12.5 Million NIH Grant

The Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention at the Yale School of Medicine has received a five-year, $12.5 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to further its work, particularly in reading disabilities, and to extend its research into new areas, including mathematics disability.

“We’re extraordinarily excited by the promise embodied in the new grant,” said Sally Shaywitz, M.D., co-director of the center and professor of pediatrics and in the Child Study Center. “This will allow us to continue our studies of the nature of reading and mathematics and to understand why some children who are otherwise capable have great difficulties learning and to find new ways to help them. Children deserve no less.”

With her husband, Bennett Shaywitz, M.D., professor of pediatrics and neurology and in the Child Study Center, Shaywitz co-directs a team of multidisciplinary researchers from around the world studying the biology of reading and learning disorders. They are renowned for their pioneering work in the use of imaging technology to study the neural underpinnings of reading disabilities, or dyslexia. They also direct the Connecticut Longitudinal Study, which has studied the development of reading skills among 445 Connecticut school children since they entered kindergarten in 1983.

The new grant will support six major projects, several of which are being done in association with other scientists around the country and in France. The projects are a longitudinal study of the development of the neural circuitry for skilled reading (in order to learn more about the influences on its development); an investigation of the relation between attentional mechanisms and the acquisition of reading in children with dyslexia; a comparison of the neural pathways for different components of math skills in children with good skills in mathematics and in those with disabilities; imaging the brain to understand the effects of different reading interventions on the neural substrates of reading; using magnetic resonance spectroscopy to characterize cellular metabolism in neurons in those neural pathways disrupted in dyslexia and to study the effects of estrogen hormone which their previous studies have shown to influence reading; and a continuation of the Connecticut Longitudinal Study to further examine the neural outcomes in adulthood of childhood reading difficulties.

The Yale center, one of four in the nation, was the first of its kind when it was originally funded in 1989 by the NICHD. It has pioneered the science of reading and learning disabilities, particularly in the use of advanced neuroimaging strategies to study the relation between learning and functional organization of the brain. Among the center’s major achievements were the establishment that girls-previously considered to have much lower rates of dyslexia-are subject to the disorder at rates equivalent to boys; the demonstration that dyslexia persists into adult life; the characterization of brain organization for reading in children and adults who are good and who are poor readers; and the changes in neural circuits for reading in response to reading interventions.

The center was also one of the first to utilize functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the neural basis of reading and dyslexia. This work in reading resulted in the center’s being the first to report finding sex differences in the brain for nonreproductive functions.

According to Sally Shaywitz, the projects supported by the new grant will shed further light on the biological nature of reading and math disorders and provide new possibilities for intervening to alleviate them. “We are putting the pieces in the puzzle together,” she said. “We are learning what the disorder is, why you can be smart and have it, and what you can do about it.”

The Principal Investigators in center projects include, in addition to Bennett and Sally Shaywitz: Robert Fulbright, M.D., John Gore, Douglas Rothman, all at Yale; and Stanislas Dehaene (INSERM, Paris, France); Jack Fletcher (University of Texas-Houston); Robin Morris (Georgia State University); and Michael Posner (Sackler Institute).

The center is now actively recruiting boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 12, both who have reading or math difficulties or who have no learning difficulties and who can help as control subjects for studies. Those interested should call Carmel Lepore at 203-785-4641.

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Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326