INFANT PhD profile: The INNOVATE study: INvestigatiNg cOgnitive deVelopment in preterm & full-term infAnTs using Eye-tracking

Sonia Lenehan is pursuing a PhD in neurodevelopment and the environment, as well as investigating eye-tracking as an assessment tool in 18-month-old infants. Sonia completed her BSc Neuroscience in UCC in 2016. She began her PhD with the INFANT centre in 2017 looking at how the environment affects neurodevelopment. The project has looked at nutrition, massage, and moderate-to-late preterm birth with a large part of her PhD looking at the INNOVATE studying and investigating the feasibility of eye-tracking as an assessment tool.

Sonia’s planned thesis title is: Investigating the effect of breastfeeding, massage, and moderate-to-late premature birth on the developing brain.

The objectives of this thesis are:

1. To investigate the effect breastfeeding at two months has on the cognitive outcome at five years.

2. To conduct a systematic review to answer the research question: Does the development of social cognition in moderate to late preterm differ from that in term infants?

3. To explore eye-tracking as a measure of cognition in term 18-month olds.

4. To correlate the measure of eye-tracking with the Griffith-III Neurodevelopmental Assessment.

5. To investigate if the development of cognition differs between late preterm and term infants at 18 months of age, as measured by eye-tracking.

In 2020 Sonia was an Irish Research Council Awardee which funded her research until 2021 when she began her new role as the project manager of Science4SightLoss.

As Sonia comes to the end of her PhD, she hopes that this research will have provided an extra tool in the toolbox for assessing children around the world.