Public Release: 

Georgetown scientist receives $2.9m to study math, language & brain function relationship

Georgetown University Medical Center

WASHINGTON (July 8, 2015) -- Can reading interventions positively impact reading skills and math skills? If so, can the improvement be observed inside the brains of children with combined reading and math disabilities? Those are the questions being explored by Georgetown neuroscientist Guinevere Eden, DPhil. Her study was recently funded by a $2,857,767 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a part of the National Institutes of Health.

Having a math disability, such as dyscalculia, or a reading disability, such as dyslexia, has a significant negative impact at the individual and societal levels, Eden says, and having both is an even greater challenge, presenting an urgent problem for researchers and practitioners to address.

"Math and reading interventions can be successful in children with math and reading disabilities, but seeing and understanding what's happening in the brain will provide important insights into the mechanisms," explains Eden, director for the Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University Medical Center.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) methods, the researchers will examine brain areas that are active during reading and during simple addition and subtraction done verbally.

"Our study will include children with math and reading disabilities combined," Eden explains. "We will examine reading and math performance via neuropsychological measures and examine the neural pathways that subserve reading and math. Then we will focus on brain-based changes seen on fMRI following intensive tutoring with math, followed by a reading intervention, and vice versa."

The intervention will include both verbal and non-verbal techniques. "We anticipate measurable improvement in both reading and math, and that we'll be able to see if these improvements are marked by changes in the left hemisphere, where reading and some verbally based math processing is usually observed, and in the right hemisphere, where math computation is typically observed," Eden says.

"Critically, this research will help us understand the role of language regions in the brain in supporting the functions needed for reading and for certain kinds of arithmetic tasks," she says.

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About Georgetown University Medical Center

Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching, and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC's mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization, which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health.

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