The Biology of Opioid Exposure During Pregnancy and Effects on Early Neuro-Behavioral Development

Overview

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.

Program Details

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

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

  • Boston Medical Center – Massachusetts
  • Indiana University–Purdue University at Indianapolis – Indiana
  • Magee-Women’s Research Institute and Foundation – Pennsylvania
  • Massachusetts General Hospital – Massachusetts
  • University of Kentucky – Kentucky
  • University of Mississippi Medical Center – Mississippi
  • University of Nebraska Medical Center – Nebraska
  • University of Washington – Washington
  • Washington University – Missouri

Funded Projects

2023
Predicting Neonatal Health Outcomes From Placental and Fetal Brain Extracellular Vesicles in Pregnant Opioid Users
Sep 28, 2023
2023
Association of Maternal, Fetal, and Placental Biomarkers with Neonatal Neuroimaging and Development Following In-Utero Opioid Exposure
Sep 28, 2023
2023
Multimodal Fetal and Placental Imaging and Biomarkers of Clinical Outcomes in Opioid Use Disorder
Sep 28, 2023
2023
The Opioid in Pregnancy: Imaging of Oxygenation, Inflammation, and Development in Brain & Placenta Project (OPIOID BPP)
Sep 28, 2023
2023
Multimodal Analysis of Gestational Health and Placental Injury in Opioid-Affected Pregnancies
Sep 28, 2023

Open Funding Opportunities

2023
Association of Maternal, Fetal, and Placental Biomarkers with Neonatal Neuroimaging and Development Following In-Utero Opioid Exposure
Sep 28, 2023
2023
Fentanyl Use During Pregnancy: Impact on Dam, Placenta, and Offspring Development
Sep 28, 2023
2023
Impact of Maternal Substance Use on Offspring Neurobehavioral Development
Sep 28, 2023
2023
Multimodal Analysis of Gestational Health and Placental Injury in Opioid-Affected Pregnancies
Sep 28, 2023
2023
Multimodal Fetal and Placental Imaging and Biomarkers of Clinical Outcomes in Opioid Use Disorder
Sep 28, 2023

Resources

  • Human Placenta Project - Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)