Friends of NICHD Coalition: Monumental Advances in Children's Health

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health supports and conducts research related to the health and development of infants, children, families, women, and people with disabilities. Since its creation 40 years ago, NICHD has made tremendous progress in addressing its research mission. Some of the Institute's major recent pediatric research activities and accomplishments are listed below.

Reducing infant mortality. Based on NICHD-supported research, the Institute launched the Back to Sleep campaign to reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Since the campaign began in 1994, the rate of SIDS has dropped more than 50 percent.

Identifying Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. In 1973, NICHD grantees first diagnosed patterns of abnormalities in children whose mothers drank alcohol during pregnancy. Research in the ensuring decades elucidated the degree of risk posed by drinking alcohol during pregnancy and led to the adoption of public health warnings now seen on all alcoholic beverages.

Preventing neural tube defects. NICHD-supported research found that consuming the right amount of folic acid, starting before conception and throughout pregnancy, could successfully prevent most neural tube defects, primarily spina bifida.

Plummeting reduction in maternal transmission of HIV. NICHD collaborative research efforts on interventions, such as drug therapy, to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV have reduced maternal transmission of HIV from 27% to 1.2%.

Developing and expanding newborn screening. Newborn screening and dietary therapies developed with NICHD support have eliminated phenylketonuira (PKU), a genetic disorder that caused mental retardation in many individuals, as a factor in cognitive development. Screening techniques also now detect congenital hypothyroidism, a condition once responsible for many cases of mental retardation.

Improving knowledge about learning disabilities. NICHD research has illuminated biological and genetic causes of learning disorders, particularly dyslexia. For example, investigators have identified a link between dyslexia and genetic abnormalities on chromosome 6 and found two other chromosomes linked to reading disabilities.

Understanding adolescent health behaviors. NICHD launched the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescents, a survey involving over 20,000 adolescents, which provided the first evidence-based foundation for designing interventions to promote healthy behavior and protect young people from risky behavior, such as drug use and violence.

Ongoing Research

With the support of Congress, NICHD is:

Reducing high risk pregnancies. NICHD's Maternal Fetal Medicine Unit Network, working at 14 sites across the U.S., will help reduce the risks of cerebral palsy, caesarean deliveries, and gestational diabetes. Last year, this Network identified for the first time a treatment for recurrent pre-term birth in high-risk women.

Advancing reading research. Building on its portfolio of research into how children learn to read, the Institute is supporting work on the physical reasons some children have difficulty reading. The Institute plans to extend these studies to other subject areas, such as mathematics, and is working to translate these findings into teacher preparation curriculum.

Improving normative databases for child development. Investigators are using new medical technologies, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging technology and bone density, to characterize child development trends and distinguish normal and abnormal child development markers.

Reducing the prevalence of premature births. NICHD is helping our nation understand how adverse conditions and health disparities increase the risks of premature birth in high-risk racial groups.

Helping ensure safety of drugs for children. As authorized by the Better Pharmaceuticals for Children Act, NICHD is testing on-patent drugs to confirm their safety and efficacy for pediatric patients.

Effects of environment on children's health. The National Children's Study (NCS), in which NICHD is participating, will examine the actions and outcomes of the many environmental and genetic factors that influence children's health and development.

More Work to Be Done

The NICHD has a long history of making critical advancements in children's health research, yet it has been underfunded. The Institute could work to reduce the rates of infant mortality in the United States, expand newborn screening studies, understand and prevent premature births, improve adolescent health, address learning and developmental disabilities, and enhance the quality of life for children and their families.