Newswise — A team of researchers in the Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, received a $6.69 million five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study a large cohort of pregnant people and their children into early childhood. The researchers hope the findings will help better understand which harmful and protective environments exert the greatest impact on child development. The grant is part of a larger award that will fund research from 25 locations across the United States as part of The HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) Study.

As part of this nationwide study, “a special emphasis will be on understanding the impact of pre- and postnatal exposure to opioids, marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, and/or other substances. The study will also identify key developmental windows during which environmental exposures have the most influence on later neurodevelopmental outcomes in children,” says Moriah Thomason, PhD, the Barakett Associate Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone, and site principal investigator.

The longitudinal 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 this 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.

This award is part of the Phase II HBCD Study, in which a fully integrated, collaborative infrastructure will support the collection of a large dataset enabling researchers to analyze brain development in opioid-exposed and non-drug-exposed infants and children across a variety of regions and demographics. The research infrastructure can also be leveraged for urgent health needs, such as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on development, or future health and environmental crises. 

HBCD is funded by 10 institutes and offices at the National Institutes of Health, and the Helping to End Addiction Long-termSMInitiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative, and is led by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.