Sunday, 6 May 2012

Sharing of MRI dyslexia datasets

One of the great things about blogging is that it allows for communication to proceed far more rapidly than would be possible through conventional academic publications. In previous posts I’ve made a plea for MRI researchers to share data so that claims about the neurobiology of conditions such as dyslexia and autism can be replicated. After my last blogpost, I was contacted by Mark Eckert from the Medical University of South Carolina, one of the pioneers of MRI studies of dyslexia (e.g. Eckert et al, 2005). He tells me that a data-sharing project on dyslexia is already underway and asked if I would be able to share this information with my followers. I am of course delighted to do so! Here is some background from Mark:
The structural neuroimaging literature on dyslexia and other complex disorders is filled with inconsistent results.  Meta-analysis provides a mechanism for identifying results that are common across studies, but direct analysis of the same datasets provides greater power, methodological consistency, and new analysis opportunities that include taking advantage of the behavioral and neural heterogeneity that is often problematic in small samples.  For those reasons, there is a growing interest in sharing data.  Prospective multi-site studies are ideal because the same data collection and quality control procedures can be used across sites.  These studies tend to be very expensive, however.  Retrospective studies take advantage of existing datasets that are housed in dusty hard drives, but are limited by methodological inconsistencies across sites.  A new NIH supported project, directed by Mark Eckert, uses dyslexia as a model to address the challenges facing retrospective multi-site studies.  Methods are being developed in this project to address subject privacy, behavioral heterogeneity in dyslexia and control samples, missing data, and the underestimation of the variance in datasets when pooling data across different research sites.  His research group is collecting existing neuroimaging datasets and aims to have more than 2000 pediatric and adult cases from reading disability studies.  One long term goal of this project is to make available much of the data collected for this study so that scientists can ask new questions, apply new methods to the data, and develop new collaborations with other scientists who have complementary expertise and interests in reading disability.  There are incentives for research groups to contribute data. For example, contributors will be included in a Dyslexia Data Consortium that will be included in the list of authors for manuscripts stemming from this project.  If you are interested in learning more about the study and/or would like to contribute data, please contact Mark Eckert at dyslexia @
Eckert MA, Leonard CM, Wilke M, Eckert M, Richards T, Richards A, & Berninger V (2005). Anatomical signatures of dyslexia in children: unique information from manual and voxel based morphometry brain measures. Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior, 41 (3), 304-15 PMID: 15871596


  1. Hm, found this very interesting, since I recently (10 days ago)had my 12 yr old son, diagnosed with dyslexia and Asperger (and ADHD) participate in MRI-based research on problem solving and stress. The work was carried out at Haukeland Hospital/University of Bergen. Do you actively contact individual researches about the possibility of such pooling of data?

  2. Thanks for your interest. The data-sharing project is run by Dr Eckert, not by me. I believe he has contacted various researchers who work in this field, but my impression is that there are still plenty of research teams who are not aware of the data-sharing project. I think the best thing might be for you to contact the researchers who did the study in Bergen and let them know about Dr Eckert's project, so they can get in touch with him if they think their study is suitable.

  3. Good luck to him, this is important, will be interesting to see how it works out.

  4. Good idea. I suggest the best outcome would be for dyslexia to be viewed as a syndrome with the MRI studies to identify the minor factors that individuals may or may not have.

    It seems that until the round peg of dyslexia is determined not to fit into the square hole of having a single cause with universal problems, people will continue to pick a particular problem and design an intervention based on that problem .

    The problem isn't that some interventions help many or even most dyslexics to some degree but that they are incomplete and so don't help the dyslexics with specific problems that are not addressed or deal with multiple problems well.

    Changing the paradigm of viewing dyslexia to being a syndrome should lead to tests of the individual factors which should lead to individualized programs that address each problem for each dyslexic rather than the present rigid fixed interventions which all have non-trivial amounts of non-responders.

    To date all MRI studies have only studied one or two areas of the brain at a time with the result that differences are only seen in groups with enough overlap that no one can diagnose someone as being dyslexic or not by MRI. This would not be a problem if dyslexia was properly defined as a syndrome. I suspect the information has already been gathered and can be evaluated together as proposed to arrive at better conclusions.

    1. I'm not sure I entirely understand you. You say dyslexia should be seen as a syndrome, but then you seem to be arguing that it's heterogeneous. I agree with the latter point, but not with the former: see

  5. MRI techs that have been around for about a year or so are paid $37,232 to $53,493 annually while those who have five years of experience get a pay check of $49.726 to $62,138 per year.