Principal Investigator and Head, Neurocognitive Development Centre
Anne Rifkin-Graboi is a Prinicipal Investigator at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (A*STAR), and the Head of its Neurodevelopment Research Centre, located at KK Hospital. Anne received her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in Psychology (Behavioral Neuroscience) and was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School before joining A*STAR. Anne's work focuses on understanding children's social and cognitive processes, likely supported by fronto-hippocampal networks. She is especially interested in ways normative differences in parenting affect offspring emotion, memory, and executive functioning. Anne hopes her research will inform public policy and associated prevention programs to benefit children and their families in Singapore, and world-wide.
Why do some children excel while others struggle? What are the neuro-cognitive and emotional bases for such differences and what influences their development and function? These questions are at the heart of my lab’s research, and though we consider multiple factors, nearly all are in some ways linked to the importance of parents. Parents, after all, influence at least some (or in some cases, all) of the following in their children: genes, variation in the uterine environment and accompanying peri-natal outcomes, nutrition, economic resources, social status, and societal values. But, to me, the most interesting thing that parents contribute is parenting! Parenting transmits cues to the developing offspring about their likely environment condition, can be a source of or a buffer against adversity, and helps to shape early coping strategies—all of which, in turn, are likely to affect fronto-limbic development and functioning leading to variation in essential cognitive and emotional regulation.
At the Neurocognitive Development Centre we examine parenting, as well as a host of other potentially important risk and protective factors likely to influence brain and cognitive development, especially in early infancy and childhood. We aim to understand why children differ with regards to abilities such as memory, attention, and learning. In particular, we are interested not only in understanding how extreme experiences and states such as prenatal depression, impaired fetal growth, poverty, and malnutrition may impact the developing brain, but also the degree to which more "everyday" risks may have an effect. For example, to what extent do “prenatal blues”, comparatively low parental income and education, sub-optimal maternal or infant nutrition, and insensitive or subtly frightening parenting influence the way our brains develop?
We also hope to learn whether risk factors such as these are particularly influential at certain times of development, and whether they preferentially impact certain cognitive abilities over others.
To answer these questions we use non-invasive age appropriate tasks and methodologies including electrophysiology, computerized tasks, eye-tracking, behavioral observation, and heart rate monitoring.
A main goal of the Neurocognitive Development Centre is to become a resource for Singaporean child developmental researchers and organizations promoting child and familial well-being. As such, we are open and, indeed, eager for collaborations. We also welcome assistance from students hoping to advance their research experience and knowledge.
In fact, our current research focus involves a collaborative study GUSTO, Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes, between A*Star (SICS), NUS, NUH, and KKH. The GUSTO project is longitudinal and involves over 1100 families; women were recruited during pregnancy. My team has been following their development stating on their first day of life and throughout their first three years, and will continue to examine relations between mental health/parent-child interactions, memory, and executive functioning as the children age. We will also examine the degree to which parents own histories and feelings about their early relationships (expressed during the Adult Attachment Interview) influence children’s prefrontal development and function. We work collaboratively with the Broekman lab, as well as colleagues in epigenetics (e.g., Joanna Holbrooke), neuroimaging (e.g., Anqi Qiu), and nutrition (e.g., Mary Chong) to understand mechanisms through which risks and protective factors influence development throughout childhood. The GUSTO project is exceedingly unique in that it uses a variety of experimentally precise methodologies (e.g., eye tracking, erp, heart rate [RSA], and behavioral tests) to understand individual differences beginning at birth!
In the near future, we will also begin testing infants who are part of a second cohort, GUSTO-MUM. This new project will be similar to GUSTO except that mothers will be recruited pre-conception. In this way, we will learn more about the importance of the timing (e.g., before pregnancy, antenatally, or postnatally) of exposure to insult (e.g., poor nutrition, insecure attachment, low income) upon brain development.
Finally, we are also working collaboratively with Bong Choon Looi, an anaesthesiologist at KKH to investigate the impact of general anesthesia on neurocognitive development. Animal work suggests that exposure to general anesthesia may be harmful in early life.
Cai S, Qiu A, Broekman BF, Wong EQ, Gluckman PD, Godfrey KM, Saw SM, Soh SE, Kwek K, Chong YS, Meaney MJ, Kramer MS, Rifkin-Graboi A. ''The Influence of Gestational Diabetes on Neurodevelopment of Children in the First Two Years of Life: A Prospective Study''. PLoS One. 07 Sep 2016. 11(9):e0162113. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0162113.
Chong SC, Broekman BF, Qiu A, Aris IM, Chan YH, Rifkin-Graboi A, Law E, Chee CY, Chong YS, Kwek KY, Saw SM, Gluckman PD, Meaney MJ, Chen H. ''Anxiety And Depression During Pregnancy And Temperament In Early Infancy: Findings From A Multi-Ethnic, Asian, Prospective Birth Cohort Study''. Infant Ment Health J. 22 Aug 2016. 37(5):584-98. doi: 10.1002/imhj.21582.
Soe NN, Wen DJ, Poh JS, Li Y, Broekman BF, Chen H, Chong YS, Kwek K, Saw SM, Gluckman PD, Meaney MJ, Rifkin-Graboi A, Qiu A. ''Pre- and Post-Natal Maternal Depressive Symptoms in Relation with Infant Frontal Function, Connectivity, and Behaviors''. PLoS One. 13 Apr 2016. 11(4):e0152991. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0152991.
E Tham, Broekman BF, D Goh, O Teoh, Chong YS, Gluckman P, K Godfrey, Meaney MJ, Rifkin-Graboi A, J Gooley. ''Nocturnal wakefulness at 3 months predicts toddler cognitive, language and motor abilities''. Sleep Medicine. 01 Dec 2015. 16(1):S48. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2015.02.117.
Rifkin-Graboi A, Kong L, Sim LW, Sanmugam S, Broekman BF, Chen H, Wong E, Kwek K, Saw SM, Chong YS, Gluckman P, Fortier MV, Pederson D, Meaney MJ, Qiu A. ''Maternal sensitivity, infant limbic structure volume and functional connectivity: a preliminary study''. Translational Psychiatry. 27 Oct 2015. 5(10):5:e668. doi: 101038/tp2015133.
Tsotsi S, Abdulla N, Li C, Chong YS, Richmond J, Saw SM, Kwek K, Gluckman P, Meaney MJ, Holbrook JD, Karnani N, Rifkin-Graboi A. ''Fetal DNA methylation of cortisol-related genes and infant neurobehavior at 6 months: The role of antenatal maternal anxiety''. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 08 Aug 2015. 61:35. doi: 101016/jpsyneuen201507484.
Magiati I, Goh DA, Lim SJ, Gan DZ, Leong JC, Allison C, Baron-Cohen S, Rifkin-Graboi A, Broekman BF, Saw SM, Chong YS, Kwek K, Gluckman P, Lim SB, Meaney MJ. ''The psychometric properties of the Quantitative-Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (Q-CHAT) as a measure of autistic traits in a community sample of Singaporean infants and toddlers''. Mol Autism. 21 Jun 2015. 6:40. doi: 101186/s13229-015-0032-1.
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