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Posted 10/11/2021

NCWR Receives Landmark Grant for Phase II HEALthy Brain and Child Development Study

TULSA, Okla. (Oct. 11, 2021) — Oklahoma State University and the National Center for Wellness and Recovery have been awarded a prestigious grant as a part of the HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) Study, to investigate the impact of opioids and other drugs on the developing brains of infants and children.

This substantial initiative is part of a national consortium and involves a collaboration of health experts from several entities across the Oklahoma State University system along with partnering universities in Tulsa. HBCD is funded by ten institutes and offices at the National Institutes of Health, and the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative, and is led by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

“It’s a privilege to be selected as one of 25 research institutions across the United States involved in the Phase II HBCD study,” said Dr. Johnny Stephens, president of Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, interim president of OSU-Tulsa and senior vice president of health affairs for Oklahoma State University. “The study is expected to yield foundational knowledge on the development, vulnerabilities and risks of future substance use and mental disorders, as well as resilience and paths to recovery.”

Subsequent to the Phase I planning grant awarded in October 2019, 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 that will enable researchers to analyze brain development in opioid-exposed and non-drug-exposed infants and children across a variety of regions and demographics.

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.

“We are thrilled with the opportunity to serve as a site for this national longitudinal study. The inclusion of OSU as an HBCD site ensures that Oklahoma families, including rural populations and American Indians, are well represented in this national dataset,” said Julie Croff, Ph.D., MPH, executive director of population and clinical research at NCWR and contact principal investigator on the HBCD Study.

The Phase II HBCD Study will establish a large cohort of pregnant people and follow them and their children for up to ten years. Findings from this cohort will provide a template of normative neurodevelopment in order to assess how prenatal and postnatal exposures to substances and environments may alter developmental trajectories.

“This landmark study will allow us to understand influences on brain development from before birth, and the factors that affect healthy development across childhood,” said Amanda Sheffield Morris, Ph.D., IMH-E®, regents professor at Oklahoma State University, and co-principal investigator of the HBCD Study. “The HBCD Study will be a wonderful opportunity for OSU students to be involved in data collection and to learn about developmental neuroscience through hands-on data collection and analysis.”

This research infrastructure can also be leveraged for urgent health needs, such as the current impact of COVID-19 and resulting social changes on development, or future health and environmental crises.

“Families are powerfully important to our development and achievements. Our family’s influence on us includes biology and genetics, as well as economics and behaviors. This study will improve our understanding of the critical factors of human brain development starting before birth,” said Croff.

Phase II HBCD explores the effects of pregnancy exposures to substances like tobacco, cannabis, and opioids and experiences like poverty and stress.

“We will be able to disentangle the influence of exposures during pregnancy from the post-natal environment, to better understand how a loving home and supportive families can enhance healing and support recovery,” said Croff. “From the results of this study, we can form better interventions and better support families and their children, preventing illness and other maladies.”

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.

“We have learned that what happens during infancy and childhood has lifelong effects on a person’s health and success in life. This study will help us understand how and why those early experiences shape our futures,” said Jennifer Hays-Grudo, Ph.D., regents professor at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, and co-principal investigator of the HBCD Study.

“I have learned first-hand the importance of studies that follow the same individuals for ten years or more. I was privileged to be part of a nationwide study that fundamentally changed medical guidelines for healthy aging in women. The HBCD study has even greater potential to change how we care for young children and their families,” said Hays-Grudo.

About NCWR: The National Center for Wellness & Recovery at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences is a multidisciplinary team of scientists, physicians, researchers and educators working to end addiction. The NCWR team is developing answers for chronic pain and substance use disorders while safeguarding future generations from addiction through research and medical education. With innovative patient care methods and community advocacy programs, the center is improving healthcare access to all Oklahomans and delivering hope to those suffering.

About OSU Center for Health Sciences: Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences is a nationally recognized academic health center focused on teaching, research and patient care. OSU-CHS offers graduate and professional degrees with over 1,000 students enrolled in academic programs in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, the School of Allied Health, the School of Health Care Administration, the School of Biomedical Sciences, the School of Forensic Sciences and the Physician Assistant Program. OSU Medicine operates a network of clinics in the Tulsa area offering a multitude of specialty services including addiction medicine, cardiology, family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry and women’s health.

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Deanne Vick
National Center for Wellness & Recovery