Dante Cicchetti, U of M professor, receives $1 million research prize

Dante Cicchetti received the Klaus J. Jacobs research prize for his work in child development.
Dante Cicchetti received the Klaus J. Jacobs research prize for his work in child development.
Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

Dante Cicchetti, a professor in the University of Minnesota's Institute of Child Development, has been awarded the prestigious Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize and $1 million by the Jacobs Foundation in Switzerland.

The award is one of the largest research prizes for child and youth development, and comes on the heels of more than 30 years of research in Cicchetti's career so far.

One of the world's leading researchers in developmental and clinical psychology, Cicchetti studies the consequences of child maltreatment and neglect and the conditions that lead to resilience, or the psychological ability to overcome difficult life conditions.

He uses a multifaceted approach, combining theory and research in psychosocial behaviors with neurobiology and genetics. He then uses the data he's gathered to create interventions in the lives of children who have experienced abuse and neglect.

"Roughly 10 percent of the population experiences maltreatment -- probably more when you think about how often it might not be talked about or reported," Cicchetti said. "It affects their school performance and development and can cause anxiety, depression and personality disorders. But there are a lot of people who break the cycle."

So far, most of Cicchetti's work has been psychosocial, but with the $1 million in new funds, as part of the next phase he plans to use neuroimaging to look at brain function in the group of children he has been studying.

"We've learned that maltreatment alters the DNA and influences gene expression, and chemical processes in the brain can be affected" Cicchetti said. "Can genes that were turned off, can we get them turned on via intervention?"

By looking at all the different ways maltreatment can affect person, Cicchetti says, he can then better tailor interventions to suit each individual and his or her unique circumstances rather than using a more standardized approach.

He's hopeful that this new phase of the research will yield some important breakthroughs.

"There's plasticity in the brain," he said. "The brain keeps developing and it can reorganize. The more we learn, the more we realize there is hope."

Cicchetti will travel to Zurich, Switzerland next month to formally receive the Jacobs prize.

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