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New Consortium To Focus On Learning Disabilities

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A new consortium of researchers will investigate the possible neurological basis of some learning disabilities, with the help of a $2.3 million, three-year grant from the Charles A. Dana Foundation.

The Dana Consortium on Language-Based Learning Disabilities, to be announced next week, will be made up of five principal researchers who will work collaboratively and with others to develop new approaches to testing, prevention, and treatment.

Michael Merzenich, a researcher at the University of California at San Francisco and a consortium member, said the project "could demonstrate that there is a science to educational problems and deficits.''

Thus far, Mr. Merzenich said, the study of learning disabilities has neglected the neuroscientific approach.

He called the project the first attempt to bring together specialists in engineering, brain science, neurology, human electrophysiology, child-development psychology, and education in the study of learning disabilities.

Mr. Merzenich's team will work to develop training procedures and prosthetic devices that will allow children to process sensory information at different speeds, building on another consortium researcher's theory that glitches in brain processing affect the ability to learn.

Although each of the investigators has a different approach to the study of learning disabilities, they all deal with the relationship between brain function and learning disabilities related to language difficulties.

The 'Dream Team'

Another consortium team, from Harvard University, will work on ways to conduct large-scale screening of students' learning ability.

"Just like they're given a hearing test, they could have a test that evaluates their risks'' for some learning disabilities, Mr. Merzenich said.

To form the group, Steve Foster, the executive vice president of Dana, said the foundation asked Paula Tallal, the Rutgers University researcher who will head the consortium, to name her "dream team'' for the venture.

Ms. Tallal then put together the consortium group, whose members have never worked together.

The consortium will share data, meet to discuss findings, and work with one group of students in order to coordinate research results.

The New York-based foundation, which gives grants to neuroscience and education research, uses its funds to try to move research findings more quickly into clinical applications.

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