HEALthy Brain and Child Development Study (HBCD)

Maria Isabella Natale C., BA

Boston Children’s Hospital – Research Assistant
NataleCastillo_MariaIsabella_NewSubmission poster

Scientific Abstract

Background: Every 15 minutes, an infant with neonatal abstinence syndrome is born in the United States. Pre- and postnatal exposure to substances is linked to a greater risk for developing substance use disorders and other poor outcomes. However, causal relations are difficult to establish due to confounding factors, including socioeconomic, environmental, and genetic influences. To elucidate how various environmental hazards and protective factors impact development, the HBCD Study aims to examine brain and behavioral development in children with and without substance exposure and other highly variable environments from pregnancy to 10 years of age. This project is part of NIH’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) initiative to speed development and implementation of scientific solutions to the opioid crisis.

Methods and Anticipated Results: The HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) Study will recruit a diverse sample (English, Spanish-speaking; range of economic backgrounds; immigration status; race/ethnicity; urban/rural) of 7,500 mother-child pairs from 25 sites across the U.S. This nationwide, prospective, longitudinal study will use an innovative battery of neuroimaging measures (MRI, EEG), complemented by an extensive armamentarium of behavioral, physiological, and psychological tools as well as assessment of a range of biospecimens, to understand neurodevelopmental trajectories. Mothers will be recruited in pregnancy, and children will be followed until 10 years of age. Study assessments were designed to be developmentally sensitive, capturing the hypothesized most critical measures at relevant developmental periods. Data will be cleaned and processed by a central repository to ensure rigor and will become publicly available for broad scientific use.

Conclusions: HBCD will provide a rich, well-curated dataset that can inform national policy to improve the health and development of children across the U.S. Findings will (a) inform efforts to prevent harms of prenatal and postnatal exposure to substances and other adverse environmental conditions and (b) identify resilience factors that may mitigate adverse outcomes and maximize optimal development.

Live Zoom Session – March 9th

research Areas


Maria Isabella Natale C., BA

Principal Investigator

Charles A. Nelson, III, P. Ellen Grant, and Michelle Bosquet Enlow