back to news Oct. 3, 2012

Psychology Professor Wins Grant to Establish Learning Disabilities Innovation Hub

Stephen Petrill, professor of psychology, has been awarded a $2,394,311 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to establish a NICHD Learning Disabilities Innovation Hub entitled Neurobiological Underpinnings of Math and Reading Comorbidity: A Twin Study. The 4-year project, which began on September 30, 2012, will systematically integrate findings from the behavioral genetic, brain imaging, and reading/math disability literatures to examine some of the plausible mechanisms that affect variation and covariation in brain structure, brain function, math outcomes, and reading outcomes. Additionally, the hub will provide mentorship and research opportunities for undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoctoral students, and junior faculty colleagues, with the goal of developing professionals with integrated skills across these diverse domains.

Petrill, program director and principal investigator, will be leading a team from The Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, the University of Colorado, Florida State University, Vanderbilt University, University of Houston, and Free University Amsterdam. Co-investigators at Ohio State are Zhong-lin Lu, professor of psychology and director, Ohio State’s Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Brain Imaging (CCBBI), and John Opfer, associate professor of psychology.

Petrill is considered one of the country’s leading researchers in the study of genetic and environmental contributions to the development of cognitive skills related to reading and mathematics. He is particularly interested in understanding why some children struggle to learn to read, have difficulty with language, or experience challenges solving math problems, whereas other children develop these skills without difficulty.

The goal of Petrill’s work is to identify brain-based biomarkers that account for a portion of the genetic and/or environmental contributions to reading and math development. His focus is on those mechanisms associated with the considerable comorbidity between reading and mathematics difficulties, as well as those that differentiate math difficulties from reading difficulties. Child assessments and imaging will take place at Ohio State’s CCBBI, Case Western Reserve University/the Cleveland Clinic Foundation Imaging Institute, and the Intermountain Neuroimaging Consortium, University of Colorado.

Petrill received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Notre Dame in 1990 and his PhD in psychology from Case Western Reserve University in 1995. He joined the faculty at Ohio State in 2006. He is associate editor of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, serves on the review boards of several journals, is the past chair of the Behavioral Genetic and Epidemiology Study Section at NIH, and is currently a member of the Basic Processes Review Panel at the Institute for Education Sciences.

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