Carney researcher to lead new sleep, circadian rhythms center

The following was adapted from a Bradley Hospital news release. The new Center for Sleep and Circadian Rhythms in Child and Adolescent Mental Health will be led by Mary A. Carskadon, a Brown adjunct professor affiliated with the Carney Institute. 

Bradley Hospital announced today that it has received a $10 million award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create the first and only research center focused on pediatric sleep patterns, circadian rhythms and mental health. The new Center for Sleep and Circadian Rhythms in Child and Adolescent Mental Health will study the linkages between sleep, circadian rhythms and mental illness in children and adolescents. 

Bradley Hospital received an NIH institutional development award through its Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program, which supports innovative multi-year studies in themed areas that strengthen institutional biomedical research capacity. 

The center will be led by Mary A. Carskadon, director of chronobiology and sleep research at Bradley Hospital. Carskadon is an authority on sleep and circadian rhythms and an expert in sleep patterns, particularly in children and adolescents, whose findings have raised public health issues regarding the consequences of insufficient sleep for adolescents. The center’s leadership team includes Bradley Hospital faculty members Jennifer Freeman, Jennifer Wolff and David Barker, as well as John McGeary, an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown.

“Links between mental illness and sleep are indisputable; probing and identifying the links from sleep and circadian rhythms to pediatric mental illness and mental health can identify important pathways to prevention and early intervention, not the least because these factors are amenable to behavioral change and to defined therapeutic targeting,” said Carskadon, past president of the Sleep Research Society and current editor-in-chief of the Society’s journal, Sleep Advances.

The COBRE program provides awards for three sequential five-year phases; Bradley Hospital received $10 million for the first five-year period of the award. Initial research initiatives at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Rhythms in Child and Adolescent Mental Health will include:

  • Project 1 – assess in primary school children from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds how green space use impacts sleep and mental health. 
  • Project 2 – use an intensive sleep and chronobiology approach along with neuroimaging to determine how sleepiness and memory in early adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are affected by sleep bioregulatory factors. 
  • Project 3 – use a prospective approach to query the roles of sleep patterns and circadian timing in the progression of Bipolar illness in children and early adolescents. 

The Center for Sleep and Circadian Rhythms in Child and Adolescent Mental Health will host training in the assessment of pediatric mental health and in sleep and circadian theory, science and methods for research project leaders, pilot project applicants and research staff.  The center will also provide mentorship of diverse research project leaders to achieve expertise in this field, to bring this knowledge to their clinical work, and to transition to independent scientific careers with external funding.

“The ultimate goal of this COBRE is to ease the burden of these issues for children, adolescents and their families through enhancing the research workforce and capabilities," Carskadon said. "The promise of this COBRE to fulfill its place as a true center of biomedical research excellence is strong, and the most important, special and notable aspect of this proposed center is the vulnerable population that forms the heart of our work. This COBRE aims to build a bridge from the sleep and circadian knowledge base and research methods to the outstanding mental health research and clinical care that characterize Bradley Hospital.” 

Research conducted under this award will be supported by the NIH National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Institutional Development Award project number 1P20GM139743-01. The Institutional Development Award is a congressionally mandated program that builds research capacity in states that historically have had low levels of NIH funding. It supports competitive basic, clinical, and translational research, faculty development, and infrastructure improvements. The program aims to strengthen an institution’s ability to support biomedical research, enhance the competitiveness of investigators in securing research funding, and enable clinical and translational research that addresses the needs of medically underserved communities.

The proposed research is solely the responsibility of the investigators and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.