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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
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Published June 13, 2024

Research, treatment and community engagement at the core of new UMN brain institute

The Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain aims to bridge gaps across treatment, research and community integration.
Image by David Stager
The front lawn of M Health Fairview’s new Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain captured on Thursday, Oct. 28. The MIDB is a new research clinic opening Nov. 1 that specializes in pediatric neurobehavioral conditions.

The University of Minnesota’s Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain (MIDB) officially opened Monday, making it one of the first centers in the nation to bring together clinical services, research and community programs under one roof.

The collaborative model allows researchers, clinicians and community integration directors to work in the same environment. Previously, research centers or groups were located in different areas across campus, making it more difficult to collaborate on research and developments in clinical treatment.

By bringing these groups together under one roof, medical care for research subjects will become more accessible and create more opportunities to research neurobehavioral disorders, according to Allison Hudson, the clinic manager at the MIDB.

“We’re bringing together clinical practices into one clinical space that has not historically worked and practiced in the same spot together,” Hudson said. “That gives us an opportunity to create a comprehensive care model within a singular space for a patient.”

Led by the University’s Medical School and College of Education and Human Development, the center will aim to improve treatments for and increase early diagnosis of neurodevelopmental disorders. Early intervention and treatment is essential for healthy brain development, given that 80% of brain growth occurs before the age of three.

The institute brings together experts from 18 departments and eight colleges at the University to collaborate on research studying brain development in children and autism, as well as clinical treatment of patients. The institute also includes several clinics focused on pediatrics and brain development as part of M Health Fairview, which will be accessible to people from across the state of Minnesota.

Funded by Minnesota Masonic Charities and the Lynne & Andrew Redleaf Foundation, the institute is co-directed by University pediatrics professors Michael Georgieff and Damien Fair.

“We have a lot to learn from each other,” Georgieff said. “Knowledge from one area can really strengthen the message that maybe another area is giving.”

Reducing stress and creating supportive social environments are two important elements that can help make a young person’s brain less vulnerable, Georgieff said. The MIDB’s design aligns with these key elements in brain development. Some of the intentional interior elements include textured wallpaper and each room being named after a different animal or species native to Minnesota to ensure a calming environment.

Along with clinical care and research, the center will also be a space for people from a variety of backgrounds across Minnesota to come together. There is space at the MIDB for groups to meet and host events, including conference rooms and a community center.

“We are very intentional on centering the community’s voice,” said Anita Randolph, director of Community Engagement and Education at the center. “I just want the community to know that we’re here and that partnerships are available.”

Randolph is working with more than 200 community partners, including parent groups and school systems, to ensure the institute is an accessible place for everyone. Randolph said she engages with outside groups by doing everyday things, like grabbing coffee and attending community concerts.

“That allows me to really bond with them and really connect into real talk,” said Randolph. “So that’s what these partnerships look like. It’s really, genuinely trying to fill a gap.”

The MIDB differentiates itself from other institutions in its approach to making connections with groups from across the state. While many clinical settings and universities are selective in which groups are able to participate in an institution, the MIDB has no limits on the groups that it welcomes, Georgieff said.

“This is for any kids with mental health, behavioral health, development neurodevelopment challenges,” said Hudson. “They’re historically underserved and this is a statement we’re gonna serve well on.”

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