UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa .– The effects of genetics, home environment, and prenatal substance use on child health and brain development are largely unknown, although pregnancy and infancy are extremely important growth periods. To fill this knowledge gap, Penn State was recently awarded a five-year, $ 5.8 million grant and selected as part of an NIH-funded longitudinal consortium called theHealthy Brain and Child Development Study (HBCD).
The HBCD will establish a large cohort of 7,500 pregnant women and follow them and their children from pre-birth through infancy. The results of this cohort study will provide a normative neurodevelopmental model and help unravel the impacts of perinatal exposures to childhood substances and environments on developmental trajectories.
The first phase of the study began two years ago in several locations across the country to plan the study design and approach. Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Aleksandra Zgierska, Professor of Family and Community Medicine, Public Health Sciences, Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine, received a Phase I HBCD grant during his previous term at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
“I am a family physician who also specializes in addiction medicine. During my career, I have cared for pregnant women with substance use disorders and their children and have become a spokesperson for women, ”Zgierska said. “These experiences led me to apply for the grant, which allowed me to collaborate with groups from across the country and plan protocols for the consortium study.”
Upon arriving at the College of Medicine in January 2020, Zgierska established new collaborations at Penn State, including with the Consortium on Substance Abuse and Substance Abuse, the Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences, and Pennsylvania State Extension.
Working with Co-Principal Investigator Koraly Pérez-Edgar, Professor McCourtney of Childhood Studies and Professor of Psychology at the College of Liberal Arts and Associate Director of the Social Science Research Institute, the team successfully competed to be part of this important birth. cohort study.
“The collaboration between faculty from the University Park and College of Medicine campuses at Penn State has enabled this team to bring together the expertise and resources that led to this exciting opportunity to become one of 25 Phase II sites of the HBCD study, “said Deborah Ehrenthal, director of Social science research institute, who worked with Zgierska on the Phase I grant when they were both faculty members at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
The current award will support the collection of a large dataset across the United States that will allow researchers to analyze the brain and cognitive development and overall health of children in various regions, demographics, home environments, and health and behaviors. maternal and family.
“Because the Penn State study site encompasses multiple campuses, we can recruit families from rural and semi-rural communities across a large geographic area,” Zgierska said. “Pregnant women in rural areas, in particular, are vastly under-studied. ”
Knowledge of normal brain development and how it may be affected by exposure to opioids and other substances, stressors, trauma and other environmental influences is essential, Pérez-Edgar says. .
“As it is not known exactly how much harm can be caused by substance use, the project will allow researchers to disentangle substance use from other factors that may impact development and health,” Pérez said. -Edgar. “It will also help us predict and prevent some of the known harms of prenatal and postnatal drug exposure, including the risk of future substance use, mental disorders, and other behavioral and developmental problems.
Zgierska said the team has extensive experience in addressing threats to public health, including addiction, pain and mental health issues, as well as experience in caring for women, children. and their families, and the recruitment and retention in research studies of mothers at risk for substance use and other health problems.
“We will target the effects of exposure to substance use and other factors, bringing together a rich data set openly available for further research, and also providing training opportunities for students, fellows and scholars. young professors to support the future research pipeline, ”Zgierska said.
In addition, this research infrastructure can also be leveraged to study urgent and emerging health threats such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, and mitigate the negative effects of these threats on child development and health.
Other Penn State co-investigators on the project are Danielle Downs, professor of kinesiology and obstetrics and gynecology; Rina Eiden, professor of psychology; Jenae Neiderhiser, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Human Development and Family Studies; Michèle Diaz, professor of psychology and linguistics; Dr Sangam Kanekar, professor of diagnostic radiology, neuroradiology and radiology; Dara Babinski, clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry; Jaimie Maines, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology; Tammy Corr, neonatologist and associate professor of pediatrics; and Wen-Jan Tuan, assistant professor of family and community medicine.
Other Penn State partners include the Child Health Center / Child Abuse Solutions Network; the Imaging Center for Social, Life and Engineering Sciences; the Douglas W. Pollock Center for Addiction Awareness and Research; the extension of the state of Pennsylvania; and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Rural Health.
The other partners are the Appalachian Translational Research Network, Faces and Voices of Recovery, The RASE project, Geisinger, Lehigh Valley Health Network, Mont Nittany Health, and WellSpan Health.
HBCD is funded by 10 National Institutes of Health institutes and offices and through the Help End Addiction Long TermSM (HEAL), and is led by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Additional funding and support is provided by various units at Penn State.