The Biology of Opioid Exposure During Pregnancy and Effects on Early Neuro-Behavioral Development
The Research Need
The placenta plays a crucial role during pregnancy, supplying a fetus with nutrients, removing waste products, and producing hormones to sustain pregnancy. Environmental factors, including maternal substance use, may have long-lasting effects on fetal health during pregnancy and later in life. Few studies have examined how disruption of placenta function by opioid exposure affects brain structure and function during fetal development and in the first year of life.
About the Program
This program supports studies using human and animal models to examine how opioid exposure during pregnancy affects development of the placenta and of the fetal brain.
This research uses many cutting-edge technologies, including new imaging tools, novel molecular and cellular analyses – toward identifying diverse, circulating biomarkers. The program will use longitudinal studies across placental and fetal development up to early infancy.
Through the Helping to End Addiction Long-term® Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative®, NIH has awarded 9 research awards, totaling more than $27 million, to fund this program.
Research examples supported by this program include:
- Monitoring placental and fetal brain development using magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound, or other imaging technologies
- Developing and validating organ-on-a-chip approaches to examine multisystem relationships of opioid exposure during pregnancy
- Examining the dose, duration, and timing of placenta-mediated impacts of opioid exposure on development before and just after birth in mammalian animal models
- Developing machine learning approaches to integrate imaging and “omics” approaches
- Measuring circulating factors in the blood across pregnancy to identify biomarkers that reflect placenta function and its effects on fetal brain development