College of Education and Human Development

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Innovative institute for brain development now open

Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain (MIDB)

The new Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain (MIDB) is now open and ready to lead the way in understanding how young brains develop and apply that knowledge during the age periods when the biggest difference can be made.

Its mission is to advance brain health from the earliest stages of development across the lifespan, and to support each person’s journey as a valued community member.

“MIDB is home to University of Minnesota researchers, educators, M Health Fairview care providers, policy experts, and community members who are working side by side to better understand how young brains develop and how we can pool resources, intellect, and our motivations to improve brain health across the lifespan for families right here in Minnesota,” says Damien Fair, Redleaf Endowed Director of MIDB and a professor in the Institute of Child Development (ICD) and the U of M Medical School. “Our bold aspiration is that our curious, inspired, and strategic collaboration will allow us to better understand how to provide an optimal environment for all of our youth to maximize brain health so that every child is set up for success.”

The mission of MIDB aims to: 

  • Lead in research and innovation to understand how a child’s rapidly developing brain grows and thrives.
  • Educate and provide opportunities for scholars across intersecting disciplines to maximize each individual’s brain health in early childhood and adolescence.
  • Collaborate and engage communities to quickly advance and apply findings to improve the health of local and global communities, working in partnership to ensure that social supports are available across the lifespan.
  • Merge research with M Health Fairview clinical care to improve patient and families’ experiences.

“MIDB is unique in that it is not dedicated to any one neurobehavioral disorder as most other centers are, but instead seeks to discover basic processes by which the brain develops. Through that approach, we can understand the root causes of many neurobehavioral disorders that affect our state’s children,” says Michael Georgieff, co-director of MIDB, professor at ICD and the U of M Medical School, and a neonatologist at M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital. “With support from our funders and collaborators, MIDB provides a one-stop setting for children and families by housing researchers, health care providers, educators, and advocates together in one location where they can enhance each other’s knowledge with the goal of improving our children’s future. We are excited for MIDB to support Minnesotans in a setting that is convenient, welcoming, and serene.”

ICI’s new space

ICD room

Contributing to the new era of collaboration, the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) relocated to the MIDB building, bringing in more than 35 years of disability research, advocacy, and education/training.

“As an organization, we actually outgrew our space in Pattee Hall in the early 1990s. Having a fully accessible space that encourages collaboration with colleagues and lets us welcome community partners is the culmination of our collective work over decades to make life better for people with disabilities through our research and its influence on changing policy and practice,” says ICI Director Amy Hewitt about the move.

Named in recognition of a gift from Minnesota Masonic Charities, MIDB offers collaborative interdisciplinary research, early neurobehavioral and mental health assessment, innovative targeted interventions, informed policy-making, compassionate advocacy, and community engagement and education.

While ICI and the other occupants of the MIDB building will retain their existing names, organizational structures, and research interests, their proximity in the space is designed to foster new collaborations, share resources, and spur new research and service delivery approaches.

“Access is a hallmark of equity and inclusion, not only regarding access to space, but to resources, opportunities, information, and discoveries,” says CEHD Dean Michael Rodriguez. “ICI has long led the way in creating access, and through enhancing collaborations with the Medical School, we will expand that legacy with new energy in MIDB.”

One collaboration already underway is the MIDB TeleOutreach Center, directed by ICI’s Jessica Simacek and Adele Dimian, associate director. The center was created under a philanthropic gift from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, providing research, training, and technical assistance through innovative and secure technology to address barriers to care for children, youth, families, and professionals. Under a new $600,000, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, researchers from ICI and the Medical School’s Department of Pediatrics will conduct a large-scale, randomized control trial assessing intervention and diagnostic services delivered via the TeleOutreach Center to families awaiting formal autism spectrum disorder evaluation or intervention.

“The TeleOutreach Center is one of the early, exciting collaborations within MIDB,” says Simacek. “The physical space and technology are scaled up from what we have previously used to do this type of work, and it is already allowing us to welcome more trainees, fellows, students, community collaborators, and, ultimately, families, to be connected and engaged, regardless of where they are located.”

Jennifer Hall-Lande, who leads ICI’s work in autism prevalence data and early intervention, serves on the MIDB executive council, along with Hewitt.

“I’ve been waiting my entire career for an opportunity like this to leverage the strengths of the social model of disability with the clinical side,” she says. “Disability is a natural part of the human condition, and I bring that perspective to my clinical work. It’s up to us to take this opportunity and learn from each other and grow and innovate.”

Hewitt agrees. “Viewing disability as a unique difference rather than a problem to be solved is a foundational aspect of ICI,” she says. “Our approach to supporting people with developmental and neurodevelopmental disabilities throughout their lives will inform the work of MIDB and create more inclusive communities for many years to come.”

–Janet Stewart

Located on East River Parkway near the University’s Twin Cities campus, the 10.2-acre property includes a two-level building with a research center, clinic, and support area, as well as a community center and an attached parking lot. MIDB provides one location to connect world-renowned experts across the disciplines of neuroscience, brain imaging, bioengineering, genomics, pediatrics, psychology, psychiatry, disabilities, child health care policy, and developmental brain health across the lifespan. It is a one-stop destination where diverse expertise comes together to accelerate discovery and improve brain health throughout life.

Damien Fair, co-director of MIDB
Damien Fair, co-director of MIDB
Michael Georgieff, co-director of MIDB
Michael Georgieff, co-director of MIDB
Institute on Community Integration Director Amy Hewitt
Michael Georgieff, co-director of MIDB

“We want MIDB to be a place where we think about how we can provide support to a child—whether it’s an infant or a 3-year-old we’re assessing for a developmental disability—and their family so that when this person is an adult, they have a great life,” says Institute on Community Integration Director Amy Hewitt. ​​The institute’s work in applied community research, tele-outreach, interdisciplinary training, and community outreach is a valuable asset for MIDB.

Led by CEHD and the University’s Medical School, MIDB aims to address access to care and the hurdles individuals and their families encounter when seeking medical, educational, and community-based resources and support. 

Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain space

The development of MIDB, a first-of-its-kind institute in the country, was made possible by a $35 million naming gift from Minnesota Masonic Charities, $15 million from the Lynne & Andrew Redleaf Foundation (which also gave $6.5 million to related initiatives in psychiatry and child development), as well as generous investments by the Otto Bremer Trust, Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation, and Drs. Gail A. Bernstein and Thomas J. Davis Trust.

“The Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain is another example of how we can unite the incredible expertise of the University with the capacity of Minnesota Masonry to benefit our entire state and, indeed, the world,” says Eric Neetenbeek, president and CEO of Minnesota Masonic Charities.

Photos courtesy of Pete McCauley

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-Kevin Moe