Current Projects

Core Projects

Fetal MRI Study

The Fetal MRI Study examines the associations between prenatal maternal distress and fetal brain development by comparing mothers who experience stress related to COVID-19 to those who are less affected. Pregnant women in their third trimester will be asked to complete questionnaires concerning their health and wellbeing, and their fetus will be examined via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women. This study aims to examine additional risk factors and identify protective social factors that may contribute to fetal brain development.

Ongoing Collaborations

Syrian Refugee Study

This study examines the impact of stress experienced by Syrian refugee children and their neural and physiological responses to socio-emotional stress. In collaboration with Drs. Samina Salim and Fatin Atrooz, we measure electrical activity in the brain, autonomic nervous system activity, cortisol levels, and emotional judgment. We aim to explore the effect of the conflict and flight from Syria in the socio-emotional processing of children in order to find mediating factors to better understand factors that help alleviate the impact of stress


Resilience After Harvey Study

The Resilience after Harvey Study is interested in learning about neurobiological mechanisms underlying resilient outcomes in children exposed to prenatal stress such as Hurricane Harvey. This study follows a sample of women and their children (now ages 3-5) that were pregnant before, during, and after Hurricane Harvey and previously participated in a study of changes in microbiome during pregnancy. In collaboration with partners at Baylor College of Medicine, this study will continue to examine metagenomics and epigenomic changes in the mothers and their children using multi-omics techniques. We are assessing patterns of brain development and neuropsychological outcomes, as well as maternal, family, and environmental factors that may promote resilience in early childhood.

Play and Learning Strategies (PALS) Study

The PALS study at UH is part of a larger study being conducted by our collaborators at the Children’s Learning Institute (CLI) at UTHealth. This study examines how risk factors preterm birth and maternal factors, shape neurocognitive development in toddlers born preterm. This study also examines whether assignment to the PALS program, which targets responsive parenting, may mediate neurocognitive outcomes. Families enrolled in the PALS program at CLI at UTHealth are invited to participate in this study. There are two visits for this study. One will take place prior to PALS program involvement. A second will take place following the PALS program completions, about three months after the first visit. During the two visits, children play games and complete other activities that measure emotional and behavioral regulation. During some of the activities, we record brain activity with safe, child-friendly instruments (EEG or fNIRS). We hope to learn more about how risk and protective factors are connected to the aspects of child neurodevelopment that underlie cognitive, emotional and behavioral development.  Our goal is to use this study to inform prevention and intervention efforts for children born preterm.

Completed Projects

PaNDA STUDY: Preschool, NeuroDevelopment, and Adjustment

The PANDA study examines how early life events and family environments influence child brain and behavioral development. Families with preschool age children are invited to participate in this study. During sessions, children play games and complete other activities that measure emotional and behavioral regulation. During some of the activities, we record brain activity with safe, child friendly instruments (EEG or fNIRS). Next, parents and children come to CAMRI, our neuroimaging facility at the Houston Medical Center. Children lie in an MRI scanner for around 30 minutes and watch movies while we “take a picture” of their brain. We hope to learn more about how early experiences shape aspects of neurdevelopment that influence emotional, and cognitive development. 

Hurricane Harvey Mom Study

The Harvey Mom Study examines whether (or to what extent) stress during pregnancy, experienced in response to Hurricane Harvey, is associated with pregnancy outcomes and children’s neurodevelopmental trajectories. We are following 1100 mothers who were pregnant during Hurricane Harvey. We assess mom’s stress levels and mental health status. When babies turn six months of age, we collect information on developmental outcomes. Eventually, we will examine how variability in stress and protective life factors, may  be connected with children’s brain development, emotion processing, and stress response systems. Our goal is to  use this data to inform prevention and intervention efforts for pregnant women and their babies.