- National Scientific Council on the Developing Child
- National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs
- Global Children's Initiative
- Frontiers of Innovation
- Science of Health and Development Initiative
- Students, Education and Leadership Development
When children's biological systems develop in an environment of positive early experiences, they have a greater chance to thrive and grow up to be healthy adults. A rapidly expanding body of scientific evidence demonstrates how early experiences become embedded in the development of multiple organ systems, including the brain, the metabolic and immune systems, and others. As a result, the consequences of adversity early in life can be serious and long-lasting, affecting the body’s ability to regulate metabolism, fight disease, and maintain a healthy heart and brain.
The mission of the Science of Health and Development Initiative is to advance the scientific understanding of how genes, experiences, and environmental influences interact during prenatal, child, and adolescent development to affect brain development and lifelong outcomes in health, learning, and behavior. Led by Science Director Jordan W. Smoller, M.D., Sc.D., and informed by an advisory group of other affiliated faculty members, the Science of Health and Development Initiative represents an intersection of the biological and social sciences at the Center on the Developing Child and encompasses research efforts and applied work related to the biology of adversity, the early origins of racial disparities, and toxic stress.
Key scientific themes of this initiative include:
- the biology of adversity and resilience;
- the impact of developmental periods on trajectories of mental and physical health;
- the elucidation of causal mechanisms that explain the origins of disparities in health, learning, and behavior associated with race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status; and
- the empirical evaluation of scientifically informed interventions designed to improve outcomes in educational achievement and both physical and mental health.
How Early Experiences Get Into the Body: A Biodevelopmental Framework
This interactive feature, also available in a downloadable "flip chart" format, explains how early experiences are biologically embedded in the development of the brain and other organ systems and have lifelong impacts on learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health.
How Early Experiences Alter Gene Expression and Shape Development
This interactive feature describes and explains in simple terms how early experiences get into the body and change how genes are expressed, with lifelong consequences on developing organs, including the brain. Using an easy-to-follow slideshow format, this feature illustrates key scientific concepts from Working Paper #10: Early Experiences Can Alter Gene Expression and Affect Long-Term Development.
Faculty Spotlight: Jordan Smoller
Jordan Smoller, M.D., Sc.D., a psychiatric geneticist at Massachusetts General Hospital, has spent his research career identifying the role of genes and experience in patients’ risk for developing psychiatric disorders. Now, the professor at Harvard Medical School and at the Harvard School of Public Health has been named the first science director of the Center on the Developing Child’s Science of Health and Development Initiative. By creating a hub for multi-disciplinary research on child development, he hopes to spur research and new ways of thinking that ultimately could inform innovations in public health policy and practice.
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Reports & Working Papers
The Lichtman Lab at Harvard University
"Mapping Brain Connectivity"
The new field of “connectomics” aims to show how brains behave at a level not previously possible—examining how entire brains are wired together, how wiring changes as brains grow up, and how interactions with the external world affect this wiring. The Lichtman Lab at Harvard University, a partner in the Conte Center at Harvard, pioneered tools to potentially map every connection in a complete brain and has started to map the connectome in mouse brains. In this narrated, 15-minute multimedia presentation, postdoctoral fellow Bobby Kasthuri shares some of the results and insights from his work at the Lichtman Lab, using images and videos that show three-dimensional recreations of actual neural connections in the brain. He also discusses the future direction of this work in helping to understand how early adverse experiences affect connectivity.
SCIENCE OF HEALTH AND DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES
The Science of Health and Development Initiative will spur research and new ways of thinking to ultimately inform innovations in policy and practice.
SCIENCE OF HEALTH AND DEVELOPMENT ADVISORY GROUP
The Science of Health and Development Advisory Group was launched in March 2012 to contribute to strategic decision-making for this initiative, in consultation with SHD leadership. More >>
CHILD & FAMILY MENTAL HEALTH
The Child Mental Health Network was launched by the Center in September 2008 to address the gap between what we know and what we do related to child and adolescent mental health. More >>
Initial support for the Science of Health and Development Initiative has been provided by: the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.