Center Receives Funding for Planning Phase of HEALthy Brain and Child Development Study

The use of opioids during pregnancy has been linked to a number of adverse outcomes, including serious birth defects, premature birth, miscarriage or stillbirth, and neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS), where a newborn infant experiences opioid withdrawal after exposure in the womb. What remains largely unknown is whether and how prenatal exposure to opioids impacts a child’s brain and development.

To help us move toward answering these questions, Center for Better Beginnings co-director Christina Chambers, PhD, MPH, was recently awarded a grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Our team at UC San Diego, along with teams at 27 other sites across the US, will lead the development of a nationwide study called the HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HEALthy BCD) Study. Underneath this planning grant, Dr. Chambers and the multidisciplinary team that she has assembled at UC San Diego – including researchers in psychiatry, obstetrics/maternal fetal medicine, neonatology, clinical psychology, ethics, bioengineering, and epidemiology – will design recruitment strategies and data collection protocols for this massive longitudinal study. “The proposed main study will track roughly 10,000 children from fetal life through about 10 years of age to examine the short and long-term effects of prenatal substance exposure in the context of other social and environmental factors,” Chambers said, “During this initial planning phase, our team and others at 27 additional institutions across the nation will work to identify, test, and recommend strategies to engage and support participants in a respectful and ethical manner, and to outline a common protocol for the assessment of brain development,  neurobehavioral performance and other health outcomes that will be integral components of the study.” The work done during this planning phase will inform future research on the effects of opioids and other substances in young children and identify new opportunities for intervention to support child development.

The HEALthy BCD Study was made possible by the National Institutes of Health’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative; under this initiative, nearly $1 billion in funding has been pledged to help tackle the national opioid crisis.

Learn More