Over 4,000 children are diagnosed with brain tumors in the U.S. each year and advances in treatment have led to significant increases in survival rates for these patients. However, as a result of the disease and treatment with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, pediatric brain tumor patients show deficits in frontal lobe functions including several aspects of executive function, showing significant declines over time. Remediation of these deficits is a critical target for research. Major changes in brain maturation and connectivity occur during childhood and adolescence, making this a potentially critical window of opportunity for neuroplasticity-based cognitive interventions to support the neural changes that integrate multiple key regions. Computerized cognitive training programs have been used successfully with the patients with schizophrenia, individuals with ADHD, and prodromal adolescents at risk for psychosis. However, these programs have been limited in their application to pediatric brain tumor survivors and untested in brain tumor patients who are undergoing treatment. In the context of an innovative longitudinal design, we aim to test the feasibility, acceptability, and initial efficacy of a neuroplasticiy-based cognitive training progrm, Cogmed, to enhance working memory and attention in children and adolescents who have been diagnosed with brain tumors. We will recruit 72 children with brain tumors at the time of their diagnosis and conduct cognitive testing at baseline (pre-surgery), and at 4-, 5-, and 6-month follow-ups. At 4 months, half will undergo Cogmed adaptive computerized cognitive training (treatment condition) for 5 weeks and half will be assigned to a control condition (the non-adaptive version of Cogmed). Cognitive assessments will be conducted at completion of the cognitive intervention and at 5-weeks post-intervention. We will use near infrared spectroscopy, a noninvasive functional imaging method that uses infrared light to detect changes in cortical hemoglobin levels at pre- and post-cognitive intervention and at 5-weeks post-intervention. We expect that Cogmed adaptive, which will be administered at home, will be feasible and acceptable for the majority (85% or more) of patients. Further, we hypothesize that Cogmed adaptive will help improve working memory and attention skills and increase frontal cortical activity in the brain tumor patients who receive the remediation program compared to those who do not. Using growth curve analyses, we expect that patients who receive the intervention will show a deflection in the negative trajectory of cognitive functions over time. Findings from this pilot study will be used to develop an application for a multi- site randomized clinical trial to test this intervention in a large sample of pediatric brain tumor patients.
The proposed study will address a significant public health problem--neurocognitive deficits in pediatric brain tumor patients. In the context of a prospective design, patients will be randomized to a computerized cognitive remediation program to deflect the downward trajectory of cognitive function identified in these patients. Establishing the feasibility, acceptability and initial efficacy of this program will be useful in setting the stagefor future, larger-scale R01 studies to address this issue.