Cynthia Rodgers, MD, is visiting a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Rodgers is helping to lead a national study aimed at understanding how prenatal factors and early life affect brain development and behavior in infants and young children.
Researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis are joining scientists from 24 other sites across the country to conduct a comprehensive study to understand how prenatal factors and early life experiences affect brain development and behavior in infants and young children. children.
With more than $ 37 million in funding from several institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Brain and Child Health Development Study (HBCD) envisions recruiting more than 7,000 pregnant women nationwide. The study is led by the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse. The researchers will track study participants throughout their remaining pregnancies and the births of their children, and then continue to collect data in early childhood. The first few years of life are a period of exponential growth and development of the brain.
Researchers will perform structural and functional brain imaging using MRI and electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings; collect information about family history; collection of blood samples and other biological samples; acquisition of data collected from wearable biosensors; and interview and evaluate children and mothers to gather information about children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development.
Half of the women we recruit will be typical pregnant women with typical risk factors found in the general population. For the other half, we will try to hire women who are either using illegal substances or abusing prescription drugs, or who may have other adverse exposures, such as poverty, mental health problems or other stressors. Our goal is to understand the typical development of the brain, as well as to understand what happens when the developing brain is exposed to things that we suspect are altering typical brain development. “
Cynthia Rodgers, MD, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and one of the principal investigators at the study site in St. Louis
The HBCD study is part of the NIH HEAL initiative. The aim of the new study is to better understand the harms of prenatal and postnatal drug exposure and other factors in the hope of limiting or even preventing potential problems. Such problems include the risk of early use of substances by children, psychiatric disorders and other behavioral and developmental problems.
Rodgers, who is also an associate director of the national administrative core for the 25-seat consortium, will work closely with principal investigator Ryan Bogdan, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Brain Science, and will hire about 300 women. participation in the site of St. Louis. They will study mothers and their children from before birth to at least 4 years of age.
“We hope to look at how factors from these earliest stages of development can affect children as they grow up,” Bogdan said. “We plan to fully assess the brains and behaviors of these children, as well as the exposure to the environment and family dynamics that influence development, so that we can determine which prenatal and early factors are associated with positive and negative outcomes.
The information gathered from the study sites will be sent to a national data coordination center located at the University of Washington for Curation and Analysis. Christopher D. Smyser, MD, associate professor of pediatric neurology, is one of the national principal investigators at the National Data Coordination Center. Other principal investigators at the center include Damien Fair, Ph.D., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota, and Anders Dale, Ph.D., a professor of radiology at the University of California, San Diego.
“We will collect and carry out data quality assurance activities in all modalities of the sites – with appropriate privacy protections – and then provide both raw and analyzed data and related research analysis tools to researchers across the board. world, “Smyzer said. “With 25 sites, our job is to ensure that we acquire and analyze data on all of these sites in a way that allows us to use the size and strengths of the cohort, maintain a closely engaged scientific community, and pinpoint the effects of exposure to illicit substances. and other environmental influences. “
Researchers believe that by better understanding how adverse exposures affect brain development, it may be possible to prevent or limit harmful effects. They also expect to be able to identify factors that make some children more resistant to these exposures.
“We will work particularly hard to identify time factors,” Rodgers said. “At what point in development do certain things have the greatest impact – positive or negative? It is therefore important that this is a longitudinal study conducted over several years and that a wide variety of children are represented. We really want to determine what affects the development of the brain in both positive and negative ways. “
University of Washington School of Medicine