Exploring healthy infant brain development

The Howell Lab is a group of Virginia Tech scientists working at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in Roanoke, VA. We are dedicated to improving mother-infant health outcomes for our community by exploring the factors that influence healthy infant brain and behavioral development. We help families in our community through scientific research and provide a welcoming environment for our research participants.

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What kind of tests do we do?

We perform a variety of assessments, while focusing on provide a welcoming, safe environment for all of our research participants. All of our research methods are non-invasive, and help our researchers understand and define characteristics that influence healthy infant brain development. Known factors that are important to healthy neurodevelopment include feeding and sleep habits, nutrition, stress levels, and social interactions.

Participant visits may include:

  • Brain scanning

  • Fun and games (behavioral testing)

  • Surveys for mom

  • Collection of infant stool samples

  • Collection of breast milk samples

What to expect during your study visit:

Current Study: Impact of Nutrition and Experience on Infant Neurodevelopment

We at the MIND Lab want to gain a better understanding of characteristics that influence healthy brain development. In order to do that we will collect several different types of data from both mom and baby across two years. We collect this data by remotely observing interactions between mom and baby (via Zoom), surveys about mom and baby’s health, environment, and past experiences, analyzing infant stool samples, analyzing breast milk samples, and non-invasive infant brain imaging.

Fill Out Interested Participant Form

Current Study: Analyzing the Effects of COVID-19 on Pregnant Women and New Mothers

Scientists at the MIND Lab are asking pregnant women and moms who have given birth within the last six months to provide input about their experiences amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The 20-25 minute questionnaire will ask study participants to answer questions about their experiences, thoughts, and feelings related to the pandemic. Participants will also complete a brief personality survey and a short task to help us learn how pregnant women and new moms value the future in the context of COVID-19.

Learn More & Take Survey
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Our Team

Brittany HowellBrittany Howell

Brittany Howell

Dr. Howell was born and raised in southern New Hampshire, but has spent most of her adult life in the southern US. First in New Orleans, LA while earning her BS in Neuroscience and Cell and Molecular Biology at Tulane University (2006), and then again in Atlanta, GA while earning her PhD in Neuroscience from Emory University (2013). She then moved to Minnesota where she was a postdoctoral scholar with Dr. Jed Elison at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (2014). She joined the faculty at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in August of 2019. Her research is focused on understanding how moms impact brain development in their infants, with the ultimate goal being to use this understanding to better support families through developing best practices and policies. She enjoys travel, food, and spending time with her two little girls Nellie and Eliza, her husband Daniel, two dogs Olive and Dinah, and cats, Gozer and Gumbo. Dr. Howell is grateful and excited to be a part of the thriving community that is the Roanoke Valley.

Eunkyung Shin

Born and raised in South Korea. After graduation with a Master’s degree in Child and Family Studies from Yonsei University, Eunkyung worked in national education policy as a researcher. Eunkyung moved to the U.S. for a Ph.D. program at Virginia Tech in 2015 and received a Doctorate degree in Human Development in 2020. She became a Postdoctoral Associate at the Fralin Biomedical Research Center at VTC in July of 2020. Her research focuses on the parent-child relationship and children’s development. Eunkyung’s ultimate goal is to translate her research into practical strategies and policy for healthy development of children and family. Eunkyung enjoys hiking, exploring new restaurants, looking at puppy pictures, and spending time with her family and friends.

JamieJamie

Jamie Holt

Originally from northern Alabama, Jamie Holt graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2009. She then moved to Burlington, Vermont where she lived for nine years, briefly working in the Environmental Testing industry and starting a family. In the summer of 2019, she, along with her husband Adam, her two young sons Silas and Graham, and a menagerie of pets, relocated to Roanoke, Virginia to be closer to family. Jamie is delighted to be back in an area with shorter winters, southern cooking, and many new mountains to explore.

CollinCollin

Collin Gregg

Born in Upstate New York, Collin Gregg grew up in Roanoke. Collin graduated high school from William Byrd, and completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology from James Madison University in 2019. He joined Dr. Howell’s lab to pursue his passion for scientific research and the microbiome. Aside from his career interests, Collin enjoys the Fall season, reading, playing basketball, and playing with his dog Oliver.

Jasmine Johnson

Born in Kansas City and raised mostly in northern West Virginia, Jasmine graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Health from West Virginia University in 2018. She then moved to Roanoke to begin her studies in the Translational, Biology, Medicine, and Health at Virginia Tech. Jasmine’s research focuses on disparities in health outcomes related to race and ethnicity and community outreach. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, kayaking, spending time with her dog, Theo, playing tennis, and traveling.

Dawn Wright

After spending most of her life in the southeastern region of Virginia, Dawn moved to Blacksburg in 2014 to attend college at Virginia Tech and received a B.S. Clinical Neuroscience and a B.S. in Biological Sciences. Following graduation in 2018, she relocated to Roanoke and became a “double Hokie.” She is currently a student in the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s Class of 2022. Dawn is proud to contribute to her family’s record of military service and is currently serving as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army as recipient of the Health Professions Scholarship Program and will be a physician for the Army following her medical school graduation. She joined Dr. Howell’s lab because she wants to participate in research that strengthens relations with the community. Dawn enjoys spending time with her adorable cat, Boots, drinking lots of coffee, and attempting to cook.

Audrey Humphries

Originally from California, Audrey graduated with a B.S. degree from UC Santa Barbara in 2016. She then moved to San Francisco and worked as a Senior Clinical Research Coordinator at UC San Francisco’s Cancer Center for a few years in Cutaneous and Head and Neck Oncology. Here she developed a passion for medicine and clinical research. In the summer of 2020, Audrey joined the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s Class of 2024. After years of being fascinated with the gut microbiome and the gut-brain axis, this is the field in which Audrey is focusing her research in Dr. Howell’s Mind lab. Audrey enjoys spending her time outside running or hiking, being with her family, reading historical fiction or science fantasy, traveling, cooking, and getting into various arts & crafts.

Nneoma Edokobi

Born in Lagos, Nigeria but predominantly raised in Rockville, Maryland. Nneoma graduated with a B.A in Biological Science from University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 2016. Afterwards she worked in the biotechnology industry for four years developing electrochemiluminescence immunoassays. She then received an Advanced Biomedical Sciences graduate certificate from George Mason University in 2019. In 2020 she relocated to Roanoke, Virginia as part of Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine’s class of 2024. In her free time Nneoma enjoys hiking, and tending to her fishes and plants.

Sarah Yosief

Born and raised as a first-generation Eritrean-American in Charlotte, NC, Sarah then moved to Durham, NC where she completed her Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience at Duke University. Following graduation she worked at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine as a researcher in NeuroHIV, focusing on neurocognitive assessment to measure, longitudinally, the impact of the disease on several cognitive modalities. Sarah is currently a member of Virginia Tech School of Medicine’s Class of 2023. Aside from her efforts in advocacy for disadvantaged people in the community, she also enjoys playing sports and watching her favorite teams: Duke Basketball, Carolina Panthers football, and LeBron James. Sarah also loves to spend time with her family.

Michaela Pesce

Michaela grew up in New Jersey and spent her whole life there until she attended college at the University of Notre Dame, where she majored in Biology and Italian. After college, she came directly to medical school at VTCSOM to join the class of 2022. Michaela is interested in OBGYN, maternal-fetal health, and gynecologic oncology. She joined Dr. Howell’s lab in order to better understand the impacts of maternal behaviors on fetal health. She likes to spend her free time playing with her dog Kevin, doing jigsaw puzzles, and hiking around Roanoke.

Publications

Dr. Howell’s research has been published in more than 20 academic journals.

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Want to participate in a study?

The MIND Lab is now recruiting pregnant mothers and mothers of healthy infants under 3 months in the Roanoke, VA area to participate in research studies. If you’re interested, please fill out one of the volunteer forms below!

COVID-19 Survey for Pregnant and New Moms
Submit Volunteer Participant Form For Pregnant Moms
Submit Volunteer Participant Form For New Moms