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Development and Risk

The Development and Risk project led by Dr. Barak Morgan  is exploring the impacts of bio-psycho-social processes, especially those in early life,  on developments across the life course.  The project seeks to better understand the impacts of epigenetic processes for developmental trajectories, with a view to enhancing the effectiveness of developmental and public health interventions.  The project is guided by an understanding of regulatory processes that transcend the established bio-social divide. The disciplinary capacities that the project is utilising include neurobiology and criminology.  

Current research explores early childhood adversity and its disruptive effects on human cognitive, emotional and social development. The project 'Towards a Unified Bio-psychosocial Science of Human Development in the Context of Social Adversity in South Africa', focuses on the enduring impact of early social experience on brain structure and function in later life, a field often referred to as ‘biological embedding of early social adversity’. The childhood adversity project is funded by the NRF Centre for Excellence, Wits. 

The interdisciplinary developmental neuroscience perspective is gaining traction with policy-makers in South Africa. For example, Dr Morgan is involved in strategic planning for 2017 for the Western Cape Province Department of Health's First Thousand Days Early Childhood Development Initiative.

The interdisciplinary developmental neuroscience message however extends beyond the purely health domain and is attracting the interest of other Provincial Departments such as Community Safety and Sports and Culture. This resonates with the Province's own efforts to foster greater inter-sectoral integration in pursuit of a 'whole of society' stance towards policy-making and service provision.

Dr Morgan is one of three investigators (2 from SA, 1 from Sweden) leading a randomised controlled trial comparing maternal-neonate skin-to-skin contact from birth (aka 'immediate kangaroo-mothercare') to maternal-neonate separation (incubators) for unstable low birthweight neonates. This study to be conducted in Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi, Tanzania and India has received a $6m grant by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The trial which will run for 4 years and involve over 5000 mother-infant pairs will be coordinated by the WHO.