Brain development/Law/Policy School of Medicine

Metcalfe gift supports study of adversity’s effects on children’s brains

10.18.2018--Cynthia & Walter Metcalfe (Photo: Joe Angeles)

Compelled by the potential to improve the lives of vulnerable children, emeritus trustee Walter Metcalfe Jr. and his wife, Cynthia, have made a commitment of nearly $4 million through outright and estate gifts to support the work of Joan L. Luby, MD, a highly regarded child psychiatrist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Luby’s groundbreaking work includes research into how adversity and neglect, as well as nurturing and support, in early childhood affect the developing brain.

She and her colleagues have shown that forms of adversity, including poverty and neglect in the first years of life, are linked to changes in brain anatomy that increase risks of learning difficulties, clinical depression and behavioral problems that affect a child’s well-being.

On the flip side, their research also demonstrates that extensive nurturing from parents and early interventions supporting such caregiving can limit, or even eliminate, the impact of adversity on the developing brain. With support from the Metcalfes, Luby is expanding a project to assess the effects of environmental stress on brain development and overall health in 370 St. Louis-area children by recruiting their mothers while they are still pregnant, and measuring stress and adversity experienced during pregnancy and after the children are born.

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