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UC San Diego Launches Enrollment for NIH’s HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) Study

University of California San Diego is now enrolling participants in the largest long-term study of early brain and child development in the United States. The HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) Study will enroll a large cohort of participating families from across the U.S. and follow them and their children through early childhood. The goal of the study is to better understand how the brain develops and is affected by various conditions and exposures during pregnancy and early life. 

The first few years of life are a period of exponential growth and brain development. Still, the long-term effects of perinatal exposure to substances (e.g., opioids, alcohol, tobacco and cannabis), stressors, trauma and other significant environmental influences are unknown. 

The study will enroll individuals in the second or third trimester of pregnancy. Participants will then work with leading experts in the fields of neuroscience, developmental science and public health at the UC San Diego Center for Human Development. Knowledge gained from this research will be used to better understand and prevent the harms of prenatal and postnatal exposure to drugs or other adverse environmental conditions, with lasting impacts on future generations of children. 

The HBCD study is funded through the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative, and by numerous institutes and offices at the National Institutes of Health, and is led by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. UC San Diego is one of 28 recruitment sites at universities and research hospitals across the country and was recently awarded a grant expected to provide $30 million over five years by the NIH to expand the study. 

HBCD study activities include: 

  • Multimodal assessments of brain, cognitive and emotional development from birth through childhood to assess typical neurodevelopmental trajectories and determine how substance exposure and other environmental factors affect these developmental trajectories.
  • Creation of a large, diverse well-characterized cohort of caregivers, infants, and children whose anonymized data will be made available for analysis to the greater research community for years to come.
  • Evaluation of key developmental windows during which the impact of adverse environmental exposures (e.g., drugs, stress, COVID-19) or ameliorating factors (e.g., substance use disorder treatment, social/economic support) influence neurodevelopmental outcomes.
  • Identification of actionable items as results emerge pertinent to prevention, public policies and innovative products.
  • Development, optimization and validation of technologies for neuroimaging and neurophysiological assessments of infants, with standardized analysis pipelines.
  • Collaborative model with creation of community liaison boards comprising medical providers, patient advocates, ethicists, and representatives from state agencies to inform the study design and provide ongoing feedback throughout its lifetime.
  • Determination of the feasibility of mobile or wearable technology to track parent-child interactions and child physiology. 

For more information, contact the UC San Diego site at (email) or (858)-230-5591 (phone) or visit 

Nicole Mlynaryk