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TAF Funding


When you picture scientific research you probably picture white lab coats, petri dishes, bubbling beakers, microscopes, brain images, hospitals, universities, physicians, patients, busy white boards, or lab rats. These are all appropriate pictures of the kinds of research The Avielle Foundation supports. We provide grant funding to support neuroscience and public health research with the goal of understanding the structural and chemical elements in the brain that underlie violence or compassion; the interplay between genetics and the environment; the consequences of childhood maltreatment and trauma on the brain, its development, and its elicited behaviors. Below is a summary of our current neuroscience, public health, and luminary research awards.

Award recipients

The Avielle Foundation Luminary Award
Duke University Dr. Terrie Moffitt

Every year, TAF selects a pioneer in the field of violence or compassion research to honor with our Luminary Award. Our first, 2016, award went to the lab of Dr. Terrie Moffitt at Duke University. ‘Temi’ studies how genetic and environmental risks work together to shape the course of abnormal human behaviors and psychiatric disorders. Her particular interest is in antisocial and criminal behavior, but she also studies depression, psychosis, and addiction. She is a licensed clinical psychologist, who completed her clinical hospital training at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute (1984). Dr. Moffitt is associate director of the Dunedin Longitudinal Study, which follows 1000 people born in 1972 in New Zealand. As of 2017, she has studied the cohort from birth to age 45. She also co-directs the Environmental-Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, which follows 1100 British families with twins born in 1994-1995. So far, she has studied the twins from birth to age 18. Temi has received countless other awards for her efforts and has authored nearly 300 impactful peer-reviewed publications.

We are proud to have helped support Temi’s research.
 For her research, Dr. Moffitt has received the American Psychological Association’s Early Career Contribution Award (1993) and Distinguished Career Award in Clinical Child Psychology (2006). Dr. Moffitt was also awarded a Royal Society-Wolfson Merit Award (2002-2007), the Klaus-Grawe Prize (2009), and was a recipient of the Stockholm Prize in Criminology (2007), NARSAD Ruane Prize (2010), and Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize (2010). She is a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (1999), the American Society of Criminology (2003), the British Academy (2004), Academia Europaea (2005), and the American Academy of Political and Social Science (2008). She is a Trustee of the Nuffield Foundation. She has been appointed Faculty Fellow with Duke’s Alumni Office (2015).

Dr. Moffitt credits the Avielle Foundation with funding her post doctoral research as well as supporting aspects of the well known Dunedin Longitudinal Study. This research has resulted in fascinating publications such as the results pictured above – click the image to learn more about the study.

The Conway Family Award for Excellence in Neuroscience
Elucidating Neurodevelopmental Pathways to Violence and Antisocial Behavior:
University of Michigan Dr. Luke Hyde and Dr. Alexandra Burt
Drs. Hyde and Burt are collaborating on a study in which twins and their parent(s) completed an intensive in-person assessment that included a clinical interview, videotaped parent-child interactions, and recruitment of neighborhood informants, in which up to 10 neighbors reported on the structural and social processes in the twins’ neighborhoods. Dr. Hyde and Dr. Burt are collaborating on a project to add neuroimaging to Dr. Burt’s ‘at-risk’ twin cohort, and thus leverage her previous data collection to examine longitudinal predictors of brain function. Moreover, because this sample resides in high-risk neighborhoods, the sample is enriched for children who have or will go on to have higher aggressive, anti-social violence (AAV). Their empirical research focuses on identifying, as early as preschool, who is at most risk for the development of later violence and identifying the neural correlates of AAV. Dr. Hyde’s program of research leaves him very well positioned to examine the interplay between genes and environment in sculpting the neural circuits underlying AAV. Dr. Welsh has used her expertise to illuminate the ways in which familial and extra-familial experiences (e.g. neighborhood) shape genetic influences on youth AAV.  She has considerable expertise in all aspects of twin work, including recruitment (she is the co-director of the Michigan State University Twin Registry, which has recruited nearly 30,000 twins), assessment (she has conducted multiple in-person studies of youth AAV), and analysis (she has pioneered new analytic approaches to twin data analysis). Most recently, the pair recruited a cohort of 1000 child twins (6- to 10-year-olds) residing in modestly-to-severely disadvantaged neighborhoods; currently, the only ‘at-risk’ twin study in the United States.
This research is conducted as a discordant twin study involving both genetically identical (monozygotic) or 50% identical (dizygotic) pairs of twins raised in the same environment. The advantage to this approach is when a specific behavior is examined, researchers are able to address the “nature vs nurture” question and rapidly identify differences, both structurally and chemically between the siblings.
For more information on Drs. Hyde and Burt you can visit their websites: Dr. Luke Hyde and Dr. Alexandra Burt

The Jan Gray Award for Public Health to Prevent Violence
Child Maltreatment as a Risk for Future Violence:
University of Northern Colorado Dr. Eric Peterson and Dr. Marilyn Welsh
Dr. Eric Peterson and Dr. Marilyn Welsh, are teaming up for a pilot study of college students, exploring the consequences of childhood maltreatment on academic success. Beginning with the seminal Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study in 1995, numerous scientific studies have shown individuals with a history of child maltreatment (CM) have profoundly elevated health risks. Of significant note is that individuals with a history of CM are not only at elevated risk for perpetration of violence, they are also more likely to be victims of violence. Approximately 30% of college students have experienced CM, and these students are much more likely to drop out of college or otherwise do poorly.
Drs. Peterson and Welsh believe this population (students with a CM history) has been very understudied. This oversight is at odds with our understanding of both the “cycle of violence” and the evidence that successful completion of college is a powerful protective factor (i.e., reducing risk for violence). In an effort to identify and understand the consequence of CM they are conducting research that will shed light on neurocognitive mechanisms that confer risk for aggression, leading to direct interventions aimed at a huge sub-clinical population (i.e., those yet to be identified or diagnosed) as having an increased risk for violence. Further, this understanding may support interventions aimed at better adaptation in the academic context, thus, indirectly reducing violence. They are looking at how CM decreases an individual’s ability to appropriately recognize and empathize with other’s facial emotions. For example, perpetrators of violence have been shown to have difficulty perceiving sadness or fear. On the other hand, victims of inter-personal violence are more likely to misread facial expressions as hostile and threatening. Executive function, that is, one’s self-control, ability to self-regulate, plan, and get things done, is also influenced by a history of maltreatment. Their studies are focused on an individual’s physiological changes (heart rate, breathing, etc) when placed in a situation that tests their executive function abilities (in both stressful and non-stressful situations) and exploring the differences for individuals that were or were not exposed to CM. Their study is ‘longitudinal’ in that they are going to follow the academic successes or failures of students with a history of CM over time.
For more information on Dr. Peterson and Welsh you can visit their websites: Dr. Welsh and Dr. Peterson