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Wellcome Leap: Unconventional Projects. Funded at Scale.

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The First 1000 Days (1kD) is a $45 million program that brings together experts in the life sciences, engineering, and computer science from across universities, nonprofits, and the private sector to develop scalable measurement methods and models to predict and promote healthy brain development in infants.

The first thousand days can make all the difference to a child’s start in life, perhaps more so than we ever understood before. In this early period, we develop critical cognitive abilities such as executive function (EF) and self-regulation. By the end of the first thousand days, a child’s individual EF performance changes their odds of dealing successfully with opportunities and obstacles they face in life. Children with underdeveloped EF at age 3 represent about 20 percent of the population, but make up nearly 80 percent of adults who are likely to require some form of societal or economic assistance.

“Well developed EF improves a child’s chances for lifelong physical, neural, and mental health and underpins greater productivity and prosperity. Advances in neuroscience and stem cell biology, sensors and computational models, suggest that we may now be able to measure, model, protect, and promote infant brain development.”
— Regina E. Dugan, Wellcome Leap CEO

Indeed, time is of the essence—because developmental windows are narrow. For example, previously neglected children admitted into foster care before 24 months old versus those admitted after 26 months show significant differences in their ability to regain aspects of cognitive function in adolescence. If we could accurately predict and improve EF outcomes by 20 percent in 80 percent of children before age 3, we could potentially reduce the risk of encounters of crime by 20 percent, reduce risk of accelerated ageing by over 10 percent, and reduce the risk of childhood obesity by nearly 20 percent.

Why can we succeed now?

The 1kD program leverages decades of advances across multiple areas, including advances in in vitro 3D brain models that, over the past 5 five years, have demonstrated the viability of modeling network formation and functional connections in much the same way as we see in the infant brain. Recent advances in artificial neural networks (ANNs) have demonstrated the viability of modeling synaptic network growth pruning processes and the acquisition of complex behaviors in much the same way as a developing infant brain. And advances in data analytics and improvements in machine learning, combined with the proliferation of low-cost mobile sensors, wearables, and home-based systems will provide new opportunities to assess brain development in real world, natural environments during this critical period.

The 1kD program has two primary goals: to develop fully integrated models and quantitative measurement tools of network development in the first thousand days and to create scalable methods for optimizing promotion, prevention, screening, and therapeutic interventions to improve EF by at least 20 percent in 80 percent of children before age 3.

Program Director.

Holly Baines, PhD
Holly Baines, PhD has expertise in developing disruptive strategies and initiatives in the health and life sciences funding sector while at the Wellcome Trust. She has led the development and delivery of multi million pound programs and managed multi-disciplinary teams across a range of areas from mental health to data science. She earned her PhD in Neuroscience and Ageing from Newcastle University, United Kingdom.

Further details.

To learn more about the program history, performer teams, and process, please visit the Program Details Page.

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