The National Institutes of Health on Tuesday made 30 terabytes of data available to scientists as part of an initial release from the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States.

This interim data release from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study covers the first 4,500 participants, providing “high-quality baseline data on a large sample of 9- and-10-year-old children,” according to NIH.

“By sharing this interim baseline dataset with researchers now, the ABCD study is enabling scientists to begin analyzing and publishing novel research on the developing adolescent brain,” said Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drug use is minimal among this young cohort, which is critical because it will allow us to compare brain images before and after substance use begins within individuals who start using, providing needed insight into how experimentation with drugs, alcohol and nicotine affect developing brains.”

The dataset—which is equivalent to three times the size of the database that would be required to house the Library of Congress collection—will be used for research on the many factors that influence brain, cognitive, social and emotional development.

The data includes basic participant demographics, assessments of physical and mental health, substance use, culture and environment, neurocognition, tabulated structural and functional neuroimaging data, minimally processed brain images, as well as biological data such as pubertal hormone analyses.

MRI of adolescent brains activated during a memory task in ABCD study,
MRI of adolescent brains activated during a memory task in ABCD study,

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According to NIH, the ABCD study data will be made available through the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Data Archive, which can be accessed for free by researchers with an account.

“Sharing ABCD data and other related datasets with the research community, in an infrastructure that allows easy query, data access and cloud computation, will help us understand many aspects of health and human development.” said Joshua Gordon, MD, director of NIMH. “These datasets provide extraordinary opportunities for computational neuroscientists to address problems with direct public health relevance.”

As part of the ABCD study, participants will be followed for 10 years with data collected on a semi-annual and annual basis through interviews and behavioral testing. In addition, the collection of neuroimaging data—including high resolution MRI—will be conducted every two years to measure changes in brain structure and function.

While the study is designed to include a diverse population reflecting U.S. demographics, NIH acknowledges that the interim data “may not fully capture that diversity as enrollment is not yet complete.”

To date, 7,637 youth have been enrolled in the study, which represents 66 percent of its recruitment goal. Ultimately, the aim is to enroll a total of 11,500 children by the end of 2018.

Recruitment is being conducted at 21 study sites nationwide. The ABCD Coordinating Center and Data Analysis and Informatics Center are both housed at the University of California-San Diego.

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