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Dr. Bianchi, NICHD Director, Presented at SRCD Biennial Meeting

April 12, 2019

On March 22, Dr. Diana Bianchi, Director of the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), addressed members of the Society for Research on Child Development (SRCD), a FABBS member society. Following an interesting and compelling story about how she came to lead the Institute, Dr. Bianchi shared information on current NICHD activities, provided an update on the strategic plan, and explained recent changes to training grants.

Dr. Bianchi explained that despite the name of the Institute, only about 55 percent of the NICHD budget – which was $1.36 billion in FY2017 — goes to pediatrics and child development, with roughly 30 percent of the budget on pregnancy and reproductive health. The remainder goes to intellectual, developmental, and other disabilities. When looking at the overall NIH investment in children, NICHD accounts for only 12 percent, with other institutes at NIH contributing the other 88 percent.

Below are a couple of current initiatives of possible interest to FABBS members:

  • Data and Specimen Hub (DASH) – A centralized resource for researchers to store and access de-identified data from NICHD supported studies. DASH is intended to help investigators meet their data sharing requirements.
  • Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) – Begun in 2013, this study now has 12,000 children ages 9-10 who will be tracked through early adulthood. ABCD will observe the effects of childhood experiences such as sports, videogames, social media and unhealthy sleep patterns, to see the interaction with changing biology affecting brain development and social, behavioral, academic, health, and other outcomes.
  • Healthy Brain and Child Development Study (BCD), part of the Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative. The goal of this study is to explore long-term impacts of pre/postnatal drug use and adverse environmental exposures, along with typical development. The HEALthy BCD Study examines the human brain, cognitive, behavioral, social, and emotional development beginning prenatally through childhood (e.g., age 9-10).
  • Media Exposure and Early Child Development – NICHD held a workshop in January 2018 (co-sponsored by SRCD and others) to examine the state of research knowledge on how exposure to an array of digital media impacts the developmental trajectories of young children. The goal is to identify research gaps and identify future study.

In her update about the strategic plan, Dr. Bianchi was pleased to announce that NICHD received 924 comments in response to the draft themes for the strategic plan released at the beginning of the year. FABBS and member societies SRCD and the American Psychological Association (APA) were among the submissions. Comments included concerns about adequate attention to health disparities, development across all of childhood, typical development, and neurodevelopment. Dr. Bianchi stated ‘the comments showed us where clearer explanations are needed for the final plan.’ While acknowledging the concerns, it was unclear if NICHD will be adjusting the content of the language of the strategic plan themes or simply providing more information about the presented themes.

NICHD working groups are reviewing comments and incorporating feedback as deemed appropriate. The plan is to share the strategic plan with the NICHD Advisory Council in June. Dr. Bianchi described the strategic plan as a net with “warps” corresponding to the scientific priority areas and “wefts” referring to concepts that are embedded in ALL of the priority areas, such as: global health, inclusion of diverse populations, nutrition, health disparities, and infectious diseases.

Another topic of interest to FABBS members are changes to support for training and career development. On par with other institutes of similar size, NICHD invests 5-6 percent of the research budget on training and career development and plans to maintain that level of investment.

After reviewing grant mechanisms, NICHD found that, compared to other institutes, it spent a significantly larger portion (38 percent) on K12 awards – Institutional Career Development Awards. Other institutes ranged from zero percent to the next highest, 11 percent. Accordingly, NICHD had a comparatively low investment in individual F and K awards. Per Council’s recommendation, NICHD will be awarding more individual awards and fewer K12 awards. Early career scholars and academic departments should pay careful attention to these changes as this reflects a significant shift in how NICHD is supporting training and career development.

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