Health Care

UVM pioneering research unveils intricacies of child brain development

HEALthy Brain and Child Development Study sets new milestones

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Press Release

Burlington, VT – Vermont’s youngest residents are helping to unravel the intricate process of brain development during the crucial early years of life. In 2021, University of Vermont neuroscientists received a $5.5 million National Institute of Health (NIH) grant to support the Phase II segment of the HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) Study, joining a select group of investigators leading this groundbreaking national initiative. The HBCD Study, the largest long-term study of early brain and child development in the United States, aims to comprehensively collect data on brain development from birth through early childhood, shedding light on the factors that shape a young person’s life trajectory.

The HBCD Study, funded by 10 institutes and offices at the National Institutes of Health, through the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative, is led by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Participating researchers, including those at UVM, will collect various data points during pregnancy and through early childhood, including:

  • Pictures of the brain
  • Growth measurements
  • Samples of blood and saliva (biosamples)
  • Medical and family history surveys
  • Information about their social, emotional, and cognitive development

UVM’s important role in the HBCD Study is linked to its participation in the landmark nationwide Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, making it one of only a few universities to receive both awards. The ABCD Study, which enrolled and began collecting data from 9- to 10-year-old Vermonters from 2016 to 2018, continues to engage and follow participants as they grow into adulthood. The HBCD Phase I, an 18-month planning period, laid the foundation for the transformative Phase II segment of the study. UVM Professors of Psychiatry Alexandra Potter, Ph.D., and Hugh Garavan, Ph.D., play a leadership role in the administrative component of the HBCD Study, run the study at UVM, and serve as co-lead investigators for the ABCD study.

“This research offers an unprecedented opportunity for UVM and Vermont and has the potential to find the earliest markers for how environmental influences impact health outcomes,” says Potter, who adds that UVM’s state-of-the-art imaging facilities, Vermont’s rural population, and the Larner College of Medicine’s support of rural health care assisted with the team’s success in receiving the grant award.

The HBCD Study aims to bridge a significant knowledge gap by investigating the long-term effects of perinatal exposure to substances including opioids on infant and child development. By delving into brain development from the perinatal period through early childhood, researchers aim to uncover the impact of substance exposure, stressors, trauma, and environmental influences.

UVM’s distinctive contributions to the HBCD Study include being one of the 28 primary sites, aiming to recruit 330 pregnant individuals within the initial 2.5 years. The establishment of a rural community research network, with facilitators dispersed across rural Vermont, enhances accessibility and inclusivity for participants residing in remote areas.

Through rigorous recruitment efforts, the Vermont site plans to enroll three to five pregnant individuals in their second trimester per week for three years, allowing for the collection of biospecimens at birth. These invaluable data will also enable researchers to explore genetic influences on cognitive, behavioral, and emotional outcomes during childhood.

The HBCD Study’s commitment to publicly sharing data revolutionizes the research landscape, enabling researchers to access vital information without financial barriers.

“We are really excited about the science,” says Garavan . “Thousands of researchers have accessed the ABCD study dataset and published important findings from it over the past couple of years,” he explains, adding that the data from the HBCD study will provide never-before-seen insights into how the outside world impacts the developing brain starting at the prenatal stage.

Vermont’s selection as a key site for the HBCD Study solidifies its position as a leader in advancing knowledge of child brain development. With a commitment to publicly sharing data and eliminating cost barriers, UVM is working to ensure widespread access to critical information for researchers. By actively engaging pregnant individuals across rural areas and prioritizing inclusivity, UVM aims to make significant strides in understanding the impact of genetic and numerous perinatal environmental influences, ultimately enhancing the well-being of future generations.

Categories: Health Care, Press Release

3 replies »

  1. I would think that UVM might not even consider babies & children as living beings until age 16 – when they can vote Democrat in Vermont and continue the tradition of Communizing the state.

  2. It all sounds good, doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t we Vermonters want to be involved in this so-called ground breaking research. Well, I’m just a little concerned about the impartiality of the researchers. Selective reporting of variables? Or, going into the research with a predetermined and desired outcome? What am I talking about? Notice how the grant is written with scientific falsehoods, right from the get-go. How many times did they refer to “pregnant individuals”. Too many times for it to be a typo. The term “individuals” includes both men and women of our species. It is a long known scientific fact that only women can bear children. Men cannot. Are we still debating whether the earth is flat? When you read a research proposal with words such as “inclusivity” and “equitability”, this tells you the results have already been predetermined, the only thing they are seeking is information that will buttress their already agreed upon conclusion. Yep, another study paid for by all of us to push an agenda. When are we all going to wake up and say no to our tax dollars being used. I say, researchers, if you want to look into this, fine, have fun, but use your own danged money, not mine. I worked too hard for what little I now have.

    • The only way to ‘say no’ to the various ways your tax dollars are being used is to stop paying taxes. How does one stop paying taxes? Earn less taxable income. The more you earn, the more the government takes from you. Stop buying anything that isn’t an absolute necessity. Pay down your debt. In other words – make yourself as self-sufficient as possible. If you want to stop the growth of government, stop the economic growth that funds it. It’s the only way.

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