BIDDEFORD, Maine — A University of New England researcher plans to investigate how bad memories get entrenched in the brains of young people, and how those grow into sometimes-debilitating anxiety disorders in adolescents.
The potentially groundbreaking work becomes possible with the announcement this week that the National Institutes of Health has provided the Biddeford-based UNE $404,000 in grant money for the project. According to a university news release, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 25 percent of individuals between the ages of 13 and 18 suffer from anxiety disorders, and 6 percent are considered “seriously affected.”
The university goes on to relate that nearly 40 million carry the anxiety disorders into adulthood. With his research, assistant psychology professor Michael Burman hopes to study the early development of the limbic system, which controls emotions and memory formation, and find the young neurological triggers that grow into anxiety disorders among teens.
“Although the neural systems involved in adult fear and anxiety are well studied, how these systems develop and contribute to the occurrence of lifelong anxiety is not well understood,” Burman said in a statement released by the university.
The grant will cover three years of research by Burman and a team of two undergraduate assistants.
Burman told the Bangor Daily News on Friday the team will seek to find, through rodent testing, how and when the limbic system develops as well as whether there are particularly impressionable times during that development when bad memories can predispose individuals to anxiety disorders later in life.
“Are there critical periods of development where a fearful memory or traumatic memory would be worse, or are there periods where those memories go away because those [brain] functions are not fully formed yet?” Burman said.
The $404,000 in funding comes from a National Institutes of Health “Academic Research Enhancement Award” grant.