Cedars-Sinai is joining a nationwide study to investigate how children’s development is impacted by biological and environmental exposures, especially to opioids, marijuana, alcohol and tobacco, before and shortly after birth. The goal is to develop insights that can inform public policy to improve the health of children across the nation.
The HEALthy Brain and Child Development Study of the National Institutes of Health will establish a large cohort of pregnant women and follow them and their children for at least 10 years.
Findings from the cohort will provide a template of normative neurodevelopment in order to assess how prenatal and perinatal exposures to substances and environments may alter children’s developmental trajectories. The research infrastructure can also be leveraged for urgent health needs, such as the current impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on development, or future health and environmental crises.
“This study is important because little is known about the typical brain development of children in their first decade – a period that lays the foundation for the whole life – and even less about how prenatal and perinatal drug exposures might affect that process,” said Dr. Wei Gao, director of neuroimaging research at the Biomedical Imaging Research Institute at Cedars-Sinai. “The earlier we can identify children at risk for problems, the more quickly we can begin to intervene and optimize outcomes.”
Gao is the project director and principal investigator for an initial five-year, $5.8 million NIH grant to support research for the HBCD study that will be conducted by Cedars-Sinai and two other institutions, which will enroll pregnant women and their children in the Los Angeles region. Cedars-Sinai is one of 25 such research sites across the nation in the NIH Healthy Brain and Child Development Consortium.
The longitudinal HBCD study will collect data on pregnancy and fetal development, infant and early childhood structural and functional brain imaging, anthropometrics, medical history, family history, biospecimens and social, emotional and cognitive development. Knowledge gained from the research will help identify factors that confer risk or resilience for known developmental effects of prenatal and postnatal exposure to certain drugs and environmental exposures, including risk for future substance use, mental disorders and other behavioral and developmental problems.
The award to Cedars-Sinai is part of the Phase II HBCD Study, in which a fully integrated, collaborative infrastructure will support the collection of a large dataset that will enable researchers to analyze brain development in opioid-exposed and non-drug-exposed infants and children across a variety of regions and demographics.