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Boys Town National Research Hospital Receives NIH HEAL Initiative Grant to Address the Opioid Epidemic


Thursday, October 10, 2019

​​​Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha NE,​​ has been awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the amount of $552,000 as part of its Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or the NIH HEAL Initiative. Boys Town Hospital is one of 29 sites that will be taking part in the HEALthy Brain and Child Development Study (HBCD) as part of the NIH HEAL Initiative.  

The HBCD Study will establish a large cohort of pregnant women from regions of the country that have been significantly affected by the opioid crisis and follow them and their children for at least 10 years. Findings from this cohort will help researchers understand normative childhood brain development as well as the long-term impact of prenatal and postnatal opioid and other drug and environmental exposures. Boys Town Hospital has a long history of working with children and families dealing with sensitive health issues and is uniquely suited to help with this important research.

Led by James Blair, Ph.D.—Susan and George Haddix Endowed Chair in Neurobehavioral Research and Director, Center for Neurobehavioral Research in Children—Boys Town Hospital researchers will be investigating the impact of pre-natal exposure to opioids on brain, cognition and hearing development using a variety of imaging, behavioral testing and advanced statistics. According to Dr. Blair, “Children exposed to prenatal and postnatal drug abuse face considerable difficulties. To help these children, we need to understand how this exposure affects brain development. The HBCD study is an unprecedented opportunity to achieve this goal.”

According to Dr. Blair, “Recent work has told us much about how the first few years of life are a period of exponential brain growth and development. However, the effects of early exposure to opioids on normal infant and child development are unknown.”

The NIH launched the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative, to improve prevention and treatment strategies for opioid misuse and addiction and enhance pain management. The NIH HEAL Initiative has multiple focus areas and aims to improve treatments for chronic pain, curb the rates of opioid use disorder and overdose, and achieve long-term recovery from opioid addiction.

“It’s clear that a multi-pronged scientific approach is needed to reduce the risks of opioids, accelerate development of effective non-opioid therapies for pain and provide more flexible and effective options for treating addiction to opioids,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who launched the initiative in early 2018. “This unprecedented investment in the NIH HEAL Initiative demonstrates the commitment to reversing this devastating crisis.”

About Boys Town National Research Hospital

Boys Town National Research Hospital offers a broad range of hospital and clinic services, backed by 40 years of life-changing research to provide the latest, most innovative care to our patients. The Hospital is internationally recognized as a leader in hearing research and clinical care and is leading research efforts in language and neuroscience to improve the lives of children and families across America.