The JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress

The JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress, a project of the Center on the Developing Child, is committed to reducing the prevalence of lifelong impairments in physical and mental health caused by significant adversity early in life. Its work addresses the need to develop rigorous, versatile methods for identifying young children and adults who experience toxic stress.

Mission and Objectives

Launched in 2015, the JPB Network brings together a deeply committed and distinguished group of scientists, pediatric clinicians, and community leaders to address three interrelated objectives:

  1. Develop a set of biological and bio-behavioral measures that can identify evidence of excessive activation of stress response systems in children and adults, be gathered easily by health providers in community settings, and be acceptable to parents.
  2. Conduct basic research (animal and human) on neuroplasticity, critical periods in development, and individual differences in stress susceptibility.
  3. Build a community-based infrastructure for applying new scientific insights and measures to catalyze more effective interventions for children and families facing significant adversity.

Network Members

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The JPB Research Network on Toxic Stress brings together a deeply committed and distinguished group of scientists, pediatricians, and community leaders.

Learn more about members of the JPB Network

Measures of Excessive Stress Effects

Biological information is frequently collected to evaluate our health. We take our temperature to determine whether we have a fever (and whether it’s going up or down); we measure lead levels in blood to screen for toxic exposures that require prompt treatment (and to evaluate the effectiveness of that treatment); we measure blood pressure and cholesterol levels to identify treatable risk factors for cardiovascular disease before they become symptomatic. With advances in science and technologies, we now have new and emerging opportunities to use biological information wisely to assess how adverse experiences are affecting the health and development of young children.

The JPB Network is actively engaged in developing a scientifically valid set of biological and bio-behavioral measures that can identify evidence of excessive stress system activation and measure the effectiveness of interventions intended to reverse the physiological disruptions it produces. These measures are being designed for easy collection in pediatric primary care settings, and will enable a more effective approach than current methods of screening and intervention for elevated stress in children, youth, and adults. As the final suite of measures is evaluated for feasibility, utility, and cost, the Network will continue to work with community leaders and parents to seek their guidance and earn their informed support for collecting biological information in order to promote child health and prevent stress-related disease.

Basic Science

The JPB Network’s basic research agenda provides a unique opportunity to investigate the underlying biology of two aspects of development that are vitally important for catalyzing new ideas for more effective interventions. Research on plasticity and critical periods will produce important information about aspects of development (such as attention) that may be particularly sensitive to experience in the first two years after birth. Scientific research on variations in susceptibility to excessive stress will generate a deeper understanding of how relative resilience or vulnerability in the face of adversity is affected by the dramatic influence of early experiences on shaping the expression of genetic predispositions.

Stated simply, the Network’s basic science portfolio will produce a wealth of new insights that can guide program developers, practitioners, and evaluators in addressing questions about the optimal timing of interventions, the appropriate matching of services to individual needs, and the investigation of why specific intervention strategies have large impacts on some children and little or no effects on others.

Community-Based Infrastructure

The JPB Network will develop a dynamic, learning community within which scientists, pediatric clinicians, parents, and community leaders can collectively apply scientific findings and new measures to the development of more effective prevention strategies in the early childhood years. Drawing on the Center’s experience building the Frontiers of Innovation initiative, the JPB Network is crafting an interactive model of collaborating laboratories, pediatric practices, and communities to co-design, test, evaluate, refine, and scale a rich portfolio of innovative, science-based approaches to achieve better health outcomes for children and adults experiencing excessive stress. At this early stage in the process, Network members are working together to address ethical and logistical issues associated with field-testing biological measures in young children, as well as helping to generate and test key messages for communicating the significance of this work to a wide range of audiences.

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