In 1999, a research project was initiated in collaboration with the Fukui Medical University High-Energy Medical Research Center (currently known as the University of Fukui Biomedical Imaging Research Center). The purpose of this study was to formulate a 3-Tesla (3T) MRI brain activation test method capable of yielding data with a high signal-to-noise ratio. As a result, the scanning environment was optimized, and standard protocols for data acquisition and analysis were established. Another pillar of this joint project was the application of NIRS to the measurement of cerebral blood flow in infants and small children. In preliminary studies, NIRS was compared with other measurement methods in adults. Furthermore, another project was initiated on statistical processing algorithms for functional imaging data. The main goal of this study was to develop a method for evaluating the functional connectivity between brain regions.
In July 2001, the latest model of 3T MRI scanner was introduced to the NIPS Center for Brain Experiment (currently known as the Supportive Center for Brain Research). The scanner and its auxiliary instruments were configured for use in the fMRI environment, and the performance metrics of the facility were optimized. At the same time, a magnetic transcranial stimulator and other electrophysiological testing instruments were purchased and installed for use.
In November 2001, Dr. Sadato was selected as the principal investigator for a grant project that used functional imaging to study the developmental process of human communication functions. This project was funded by the Japan Science and Technology Corporation under its Social Technology Promotion Program (research field: Brain Science and Education). This research was one of the earliest efforts to apply functional imaging to developmental physiology. From April 2002 to March 2005, our Division led a grant project funded by the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (B) Program. The title of this project was: “Elucidation of the Developmental Process of Face-to-Face Communication Function Based on Noninvasive Brain Imaging Techniques: Analysis of the Process of Visual, Auditory, and Tactile Integration” (project code, 14380370; principal investigator, Dr. Sadato). Successful achievements were made in the analysis of developmental process of cross-modal integration, which is the basis of skills related to social competence. This study established fMRI- and NIRS-based methods to monitor human brain activity during social interactions. This led to the approval of the proposal for the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (S) program (project code, 1700005; FY 2005 to FY 2008).
In addition to the aforementioned studies, Dr. Sadato served as general supervisor for an infant growth and developmental cohort project from FY 2004 to FY 2008 (Japan Science and Technology Agency [JST] Research Institute of Science and Technology for Society; R & D Focus Area: Brain Science and Society). This research project, named “Identification of Factors Affecting Cognitive and Behavioral Development of Children in Japan Based on a Cohort Study: Japan Children's Study,” applied a brain sciences approach to research on the development of social competence skills. Our Division contributed to the understanding of social competence development. To this end, working models were created, tested, and evaluated experimentally using neuroimaging techniques and longitudinal developmental analysis of behavior. More specifically, we implemented a grant project entitled “Elucidation of the Neural Substrates of Social Skills and the Developmental Process, as Well as Formulation of the Associated Evaluation and Measurement Techniques” with the support of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) grant program (“Advanced Research and Development on Measurement and Support Techniques for Brain Function Underlying Social Behavior”). In addition, we carried out a separate study entitled “Elucidating the Neural Substrates and Development of Prosocial Behavior (S21220005)” under the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research program.