College of Education and Human Development

Institute of Child Development

Largest long-term study of early brain and child development launches at University of Minnesota

Landmark study will seek to answer unknowns about long-term effects of prenatal exposure to opioids and other substances.


MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (09/05/2023) —University of Minnesota researchers are launching enrollment for the largest long-term study of early brain and child development in the United States. The HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) study, is now enrolling individuals from around the United States, including in Minnesota, who are in the second trimester of pregnancy.

The University of Minnesota was selected as one of 28 recruitment sites across the country for the project, and also serves a key role in the central HBCD Data Coordinating Center. The study will enroll about 7,500 pregnant people nationwide and follow them and their children for up to 10 years through infancy and childhood. The HBCD study is part of the broader National Institutes of Health Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative, to learn, in part, more about the long-term effects of prenatal exposure to opioids on infant and child development. In addition, it is expected to identify key developmental windows during which both harmful and protective environmental factors have the most influence on later neurodevelopmental outcomes.

“Many mental health disorders that appear later in life have developmental origins in the first 1000 days. Understanding how to get kids off to a healthy start and identifying which kids are at risk is key to protecting the brain across the lifespan and an investment in our future generations,” said Michael Georgieff, co-director of the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain (MIDB). 

In Minnesota, the researchers will collaborate with a network of about 20 birth and addiction treatment centers to connect with participants across the state, with the goal of including rural residents and historically underrepresented populations. Information gathered during pregnancy and at various points throughout early childhood will include:

  • Pictures of the brain
  • Measures of physical growth
  • Samples of blood and saliva
  • Medical and family history surveys
  • Information about social, emotional, and cognitive development

“This is a pivotal moment for our society to begin gaining a deeper understanding of child development, including the potential long-term impacts of substance exposure during pregnancy, and a host of other environmental factors, on the developing brain,” said Sylia Wilson, an associate professor in the Institute of Child Development. “This research will give us a more complete picture of healthy brain development for all children.”

The University of Minnesota received two grants expected to provide $26 million over five years for the HBCD study. A $6 million, 5-year grant led by Wilson, Georgieff, and Anna Zilverstand, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Medical School, establishes Minnesota as one of 28 data collection sites across the country. The study aims to include recruitment of pregnant people from regions of the country significantly impacted by the opioid crisis. 

The second grant, expected to total $20 million for five years, includes Damien Fair, co-director for the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain, along with collaborators Christopher Smyser from Washington University in St. Louis and Anders Dale from the University of California San Diego. They are charged with leading and managing the state-of-the-art, longitudinal data set that will address crucial questions about the impact of environmental factors on brain and behavioral health. This landmark study is expected to shape research, clinical care, and public policy for decades to come. 

“This study is providing an unprecedented look inside the earliest stages of brain development with the most advanced neuroimaging technology to date,” Fair said. “It will provide the foundation for understanding and optimizing brain health in our youth for years to come. The establishment of the MIDB and investments in interdisciplinary research here in Minnesota has allowed us to play a lead role in establishing this prominent national study.”

To learn more about enrolling in the study, visit 

The HBCD Study is funded through the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative, and by numerous institutes and offices at the National Institutes of Health, and is led by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The University of Minnesota’s work is supported by the NIH through grant numbers 5U01DA055371 and 5U24DA055330. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.


About the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain 

The Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain (MIDB) is a one-stop clinic, research, and outreach location specializing in children and youth with neurobehavioral conditions. By bringing together University of Minnesota experts in pediatric medicine, research, policy and community supports to understand, prevent, diagnose, and treat neurodevelopmental disorders in early childhood and adolescence, MIDB advances brain health from the earliest stages of development across the lifespan, supporting each person’s journey as a valued community member. Learn more at

About the University of Minnesota Medical School
The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and educating the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. We acknowledge that the U of M Medical School, both the Twin Cities campus and Duluth campus, is located on traditional, ancestral and contemporary lands of the Dakota and the Ojibwe, and scores of other Indigenous people, and we affirm our commitment to tribal communities and their sovereignty as we seek to improve and strengthen our relations with tribal nations. For more information about the U of M Medical School, please visit

About the College of Education and Human Development
The University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) strives to teach, advance research and engage with the community to increase opportunities for all individuals. As the third largest college on the Twin Cities campus, CEHD research and specialties focus on a range of challenges, including: educational equity, teaching and learning innovations, children’s mental health and development, family resilience, and healthy aging. Learn more at

Contact: Rachel Cain, University Relations,