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The Gaab Lab for Developmental Neuroscience

Dr. Nadine Gaab teaches her daughter, Viella, about the brain.


Dear Parents:
Developmental dyslexia affects 5-17% of school-aged children, making it the most common learning disability. It is characterized by difficulties with reading and spelling, but does not affect measures of intelligence, such as IQ. Researchers have shown that the brains of children and adults diagnosed with dyslexia are organized differently than those of other people the same age, and have also provided evidence that susceptibility to dyslexia may run in families.

This study is investigating whether these differences can be observed in the brains of infants with a family history of dyslexia. A family history means that you have a parent or sibling who has been diagnosed with developmental dyslexia by a doctor or psychologist. We would like to learn what age brain differences first begin to appear in people who are at risk for dyslexia, and whether they can be used to identify children at risk in infancy. The goal of this study is to provide new information to help us learn to diagnose dyslexia in infancy, which could help us develop more effective prevention and treatment strategies for susceptible infants before they go through certain crucial stages of brain development in the first two years of life.

To reach this goal, we will compare the brain images of infants with and without a family history of developmental dyslexia using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). MRI is a safe and completely non-invasive method that we use to take pictures of the brain. We will utilize age-specific behavioral techniques and innovative MRI technology in order to safely acquire these brain images without using any sedation or anesthesia. Although sedation or anesthesia is commonly used with infants who need an MRI exam for clinical reasons, we hope that this study will promote the use of the techniques that we have developed so that other hospitals and research institutions can also learn to carry out infant MRI without using sedation or anesthesia. We believe that this will ultimately make the exam much safer and more cost-effective for patients and their families, as well as hospitals.

Prepare your visit

We aim to make you and your child as comfortable as possible before and during the study, and we encourage you to participate! Your cooperation in preparing your child before the study will help the day of your study to go smoothly and quickly.

Dr. Nadine Gaab plays peek-a-boo with Viella in the CHB at Waltham.


This study consists of one approximately three-hour session at the Children’s Hospital Boston campus in Waltham. On the day of the study, our goal is to help your child fall asleep naturally, so that he/she will be able to lie still while we take pictures of his/her brain.
Eligibility: To let us know that you’re interested in our study, you can either call our lab or have a look at the ‘research->participants’ page. Once we determine your child’s eligibility, we’ll discuss the following with you:
---We may ask you questions about your child’s health and your family’s medical history.
---We will help you understand what the study will entail and what you will be expected to do.
---During the study, we hope to re-create the typical naptime environment your child has at home, so we will also ask for some information about your child’s personality and normal routine.
Scheduling:
---We will try to schedule your study appointment during the time of day that your child normally falls asleep, such as nap.
---We can schedule your appointment in the morning or afternoon and we also have weekend availability.
---We will schedule your appointment when it is most convenient for you and your child. If you have an older child, feel free to bring them along and one of our team members will entertain them during your session.
How to prepare your child:
---Sometimes the noises from the MRI machine can wake sleeping children up. You will receive a CD or an emailed MP3 file of these sounds in the study package. We ask that you play it while your child is asleep, during bedtime and nap time, in order to help him/her become accustomed to the noise before study day. You can also listen to the sounds here:
---On study day, you will be asked fill out a questionnaire about your child’s health and development. If you’d like to fill out this paperwork beforehand to speed things up during the study, we can email you a copy and you can bring it with you on the day of your study.
On study day, we ask that you:
---If your child has a favorite security object, or listens to CDs of music or white noise at bedtime, bring them along on study day. A security object might be a favorite stuffed animal or blanket. However, please make sure that there is no metal in the security object beforehand, or else it cannot go in the room with the MRI machine.

Viella has fallen asleep with her security blanket on the way to CHB at Waltham.


---Dress your child in comfortable clothing without any metal buttons or zippers. Pajamas are a great option because they are comfortable and will hint to your child that he/she is going to bed soon. We may ask to change your child into baby scrubs if some of their clothing contains metal.

Viella is wearing a great outfit for having an MRI- her favorite comfy, pink dog pajamas with an elastic waistband and warm, metal-free slipper socks.


Don’t worry! Children can sense their parents’ anxiety. If you have any questions or concerns whatsoever, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are more than happy to speak to you! Check out the ‘Contact Us’ page for more contact information.

What to expect on Study Day?

After speaking with our study representative and taking the steps to prepare yourself and your child, you will be ready to take part in our study! Here is a preview of what the day of your study will be like...
When you arrive at the CHB at Waltham:
There are designated parking spots for guests with infants in the main entrance of the parking garage. Simply walk out of the garage, across the street and up the hill to the main entrance. Someone from the research team will meet you when you arrive, or you may check in at the front desk.

Nadine and Viella, arrive at the CHB at Waltham


Nadine and Viella wait in the lobby at Waltham

Viella plays in the mock brain camera

Nadine and Viella inspect some of the equipment in the mock brain camera

Before the Imaging Session:
--> We will discuss exactly where we will meet and send you a confirmation email with specific directions before the day of your study.
--> A research team member will tell you a little bit about our research and explain exactly what will happen during the study. She will also ask for you to consent to your child’s participation and fill out a questionnaire about your child’s health and development.
--> If you’d like to fill out this paperwork beforehand, we can sent it to you over email and you can bring it with you on study day. We like to call the mock and real MRI machines “brain cameras” when working with young children. (You will see this reference throughout the site.)
--> Then, the research team member will take you to see our mock MRI machine, called the ‘mock scanner’, or ‘mock brain camera’. The mock brain camera is a replica of a real MRI machine, but without the powerful magnet.
--> During the first hour of the session, a research team member will administer a child development assessment to your child to help tire him/her out. We are happy to share these scores with you after the session!

Nadine and Viella head to the Radiology Department

The Radiology Department waiting room


--> After we’re finished looking around the mock brain camera, we will bring you up to the Radiology department, where the study will take place.
--> We will check in with the Radiology staff and fill out some medical forms to make sure it is safe for your child to go inside the MRI room.
--> If you wish to stay in the MRI room with your child during the study, we will ask you to fill out some medical forms for yourself, too.

There are lots of fun things to do in the waiting room while we wait to begin the imaging session. Viella loved looking at the fish tank- we couldn’t get her away from it!

--> Once we’re ready to begin the imaging session, we will take you to our private nursery room where we will help your child fall asleep naturally.
--> To do this, we will try to mimic your child’s normal bedtime routine as closely as possible.
--> No one knows your child better than you- we will need your help!
--> We encourage you to nurse or bottle-feed your child in the private room to help him/her become sleepy.
--> We ask that you bring any personal items you think might help you child feel comfortable and fall asleep (ex. a favorite bedtime story or toy).
--> We will provide some additional tools to help your child fall asleep, including:

  • A ‘Pack n Play’, equipped with a bassinet to sleep in, as well as a changing table and playpen
  • A video monitor to keep an eye on your child if you’d like to sit outside of the room as he/she falls asleep
  • Warm blankets to wrap your child snuggly
  • A rocking chair to rock your child to sleep
  • Fun baby toys and books
  • Children’s lullaby CDs
  • Large, soft playmat
--> At this time, you can also change your child into a metal-free outfit.


Nadine nurses Viella

Viella has a bottle

Nadine reads Viella’s favorite bedtime story, with some of her toys nearby

The video monitor and some of Viella’s favorite toys

Viella plays with the MRI bear

Nadine and Viella enter the MRI room


During the Imaging Session:
--> Once your child is asleep, he/she will be safely transported to and placed in the brain camera. You are welcome to stay inside the MRI room with your child throughout the study!
--> We will outfit your child with padded headphones and special ear guards to block out the noise from the brain camera.
--> During the study, at least one research team representative will be present inside the MRI room with your child at all times. Another person will also monitor your child through a large glass window and listen for noise inside the brain camera through a microphone.
--> If you opt to go inside the MRI room, we must make sure that you have no metal in/on your body. We will check for this with a metal detector and ask you to fill out a medical consent form. Please see the safety page for more information.
--> Your child will be inside the brain camera for 20-40 minutes.
--> During this time, your child will be promptly taken out of the brain camera if he/she wakes up at any time, or if you want us to stop the study for any reason.

Nadine and the MRI technician get Viella ready for her study

The view from the window outside the room

Viella lies on the MRI bed

Viella is all done with her imaging session!


After the Imaging Session:

--> We will ask you to fill out a questionnaire about your experience. This information is very important to us and will help us make MR imaging safer and more efficient for children of all ages.
--> We will present you with a few small gifts to say thank you, including a CD with a picture of your child’s brain and a “Neuroscientist in Training” onesie!
--> Your child’s brain images will be reviewed by a pediatric neuroradiologist. In the extremely rare event that there are any abnormal findings, we will contact you immediately.

Viella watches the fish in the waiting room while Nadine fills out her questionnaire


After her scan, Nadine gives Viella a snack, and the study representative gives then some gifts to thank them for their participation. Nadine models Viella’s ‘Neuroscientist in Training’ onesie and Viella holds a CD containing pictures of her brain, without taking her eyes off the fascinating fish tank!

Viella gets a special toy to take home!



Please keep in mind that we understand how difficult it is to put a young child to sleep, especially in an unfamiliar environment. We expect that many of the infants that take part in our study will not be able to fall and/or stay asleep inside the brain camera. We have carefully planned our study to maximize comfort and decrease stress for you and your child- we don’t want you to worry!

If your child is unable to fall/stay asleep, we have made sure to allot extra study time, or can always reschedule your study appointment. If you decide that you no longer wish to partake in the study, you are free to withdraw your child at any time.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us!