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Psychological Science Highlighted at NICHD Advisory Council Meeting

Duane Alexander stated that the institute had funded 1,799 research project grants in FY08.

By Karen Studwell

The National Advisory Child Health and Human Development (NACHHD) Council, which provides oversight to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), met on January 22nd.  The meeting provided a platform for discussion of the contributions of psychological science to the institute’s mission.

As part of his Director’s Report, Duane Alexander stated that the institute had funded 1,799 research project grants in FY08, including 455 competing awards, with the success rate dropping from 20.6 percent in FY07 to just 16.9% in FY08.  NICHD, like NIH as a whole, is currently funded under a continuing resolution, with a total institute budget of approximately $1.26 billion. (Under the Specter-Harkin amendment offered to the Senate’s fiscal stimulus legislation in early February, NICHD would receive an additional $348 million over the next two years.)

Following the Director’s Report, the Child Development and Behavior Branch, led by Peggy McCardle, presented its Branch review report. The CDB Branch funds research on typical child development and behavior, including developmental cognitive psychology; behavioral neuroscience; early learning and school readiness; reading, writing and learning disabilities; math and science cognition; child maltreatment and violence; as well as pediatric behavior and health promotion.  McCardle was joined by two of the Branch’s principal investigators, Jack Fletcher, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Houston, and Lynne Vernon-Feagans, William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of Early Childhood, Intervention and Literacy and Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina.

Fletcher commended the NICHD for its support for education research that has led to advances in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of learning disabilities over the past 25 years.  As the principal investigator for the NICHD-funded Texas Center for Learning Disabilities, Fletcher leads an interdisciplinary team that pursues work on the classification and definition of learning disabilities and on the cognitive and neural mechanisms involved in learning disabilities, as well as intervention studies in schools.

Vernon-Feagans discussed her research on the effects of poverty and rurality on education outcomes and child development.  Her current NICHD project is a multi-site birth-cohort study of children born in three poor, rural Pennsylvania and North Carolina counties.  In collaboration with 23 investigators, she is collecting behavioral and biological measures in various domains, including stress and health, family function and economic status, literacy activities, and the children’s cognitive, linguistic, emotional, and social development.

In response to the presentations, Advisory Council members recognized the Branch’s scientific contributions to the NICHD mission, commenting that behavior is the endpoint on which researchers should focus, and noting that understanding healthy growth and development are critical to explaining, preventing, and treating atypical development.