International research projects

Preterm Brain-Oxygenation and Metabolic EU-Sensing: Feed the Brain (Prometeus)
EIC (European Innovation Council) Pathfinder Open (grant agreement No101099093)

Prometeus is a collaborative project aimed at introducing a new-paradigm for personalized nutrition of prematurely born neonates in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). It will develop a groundbreaking technology for real-time adjustment of glucose and nutrients intakes to target neonatal brain needs. The brain of a baby born prematurely is highly susceptible to early neonatal injuries that, in turn, increase the risk for neurodevelopmental disability. Provision of adequate nutrients and oxygen is essential for proper brain development and growth. Prometeus will develop a metabolic model of the interaction between three key brain fuels and their effect on cerebral blood flow, oxygenation and metabolism. The model will serve to individualize brain nutrition targeting “brain health” according to the inputs derived from two novel minimally invasive metabolic sensing systems: a wearable cap measuring cerebral blood flow, oxygenation and metabolism, and a subcutaneous miniaturized metabolic sensor for the three key brain fuels. The system will create a metabolic “womb” to feed the brain of preterm neonates. Prometeus will be paralleled by a parent- dedicated interface, exploiting a purposely developed family adjusted visual language, that will inform parents of preterm babies during their NICU admission and stay. Prometeus will dramatically reduce the risk for prematurity-associated disability in Europe and worldwide, with a consequent incalculable ethical, social and economic impact. Prometeus is a multidisciplinary and challenging project, involving 11 partners in 6 different countries (France, Great Britain, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom).


Tuned to the Rhythm: How Prenatally and Postnatally Heard Speech Prosody Lays the Foundations for Language Learning
ERC Consolidator Grant

The role of experience in language acquisition has been the focus of heated theoretical debates, between proponents of nativist views according to whom experience plays a minimal role and advocates of empiricist positions holding that experience, be it linguistic, social or other, is sufficient to account for language acquisition. Despite more than a half century of dedicated research efforts, the problem is not solved. The present project brings a novel perspective to this debate, combining hitherto unconnected research in language acquisition with recent advances in the neurophysiology of hearing and speech processing. Specifically, it claims that prenatal experience with speech, which mainly consists of prosody due to the filtering effects of the womb, is what shapes the speech perception system, laying the foundations of subsequent language learning. Prosody is thus the cue that links genetically endowed predispositions present in the initial state with language experience. The proposal links the behavioral and neural levels, arguing that the hierarchy of the neural oscillations corresponds to a unique developmental chronology in human infants’ experience with speech and language. The project uses state-of-the-art brain imaging techniques, EEG & NIRS, with monolingual full term newborns, as well as full-term bilingual, preterm and deaf newborns to investigate the link between prenatal experience and subsequent language acquisition. It proposes to follow the developmental trajectories of these four populations from birth to 6 and 9 months of age.