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Mosaic images of happy children

The Institute for Early Life Adversity Research explores how individuals are shaped by difficulties during brain development and creates interventions to reverse lingering negative effects.

Experts from across disciplines collaborate to understand the lifelong impact of child abuse, child neglect and inconsistent parental bonding as well as prenatal exposure to such things as cigarette smoke, drugs, abuse and domestic violence.

Housed within the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences as part of the school’s Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences, the institute team studies all aspects of childhood maltreatment. This includes the effects of early life abuse and neglect on the brain and the body. The team is interested in implementing early life adversity prevention programs and caring for individuals of all ages who have been and continue to be impacted by it. Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, leads the institute.

Focus Areas

The institute intends to implement educational programs to help prevent child neglect and trauma (including prenatal exposure), teach the public about the impact of early life adversity and identify people who are at risk.

This includes studies of brain imaging; genomics and epigenetics; and inflammation.

Institute team members conduct research to identify novel therapeutic targets — mainly combinations of medications and psychotherapy — and develop effective treatments that go beyond pharmacological interventions. Researchers conduct clinical trials to design models of resilience training that can be incorporated into therapeutic interventions.

Building on the strengths of UT Austin, the institute aims to benefit the community by alleviating human suffering and reducing health care costs.

Institute researchers tackle early life adversity from multiple angles, including seeking to uncover high-risk genes that — when coupled with specific environmental factors — are the greatest predictors of problems in adulthood. Studies also look at the impact of early life adversity on the human stress response system and the effects of decreased oxytocin levels such as difficulty in forming healthy attachment bonds.