Basic research on growth-promoting polypeptides and hypothalamic releasing factors receives special emphasis, particularly as these factors interact to influence normal growth and physiological development. Basic and clinical studies of the etiology and therapy of growth retardation are also supported. Major importance is placed on ascertaining the molecular basis of growth retardation in regard to the control of transcription and translation of growth factors, their binding proteins, and their receptors. Studies of trans-membrane signaling in effector cells are also encouraged.
The Fels Longitudinal Study of Growth and Development is the largest and longest-running longitudinal study in the world. NICHD-supported investigators are currently following more than 1,400 individuals, who were enrolled at birth, beginning in 1930. The Fels Study provided growth data for the North American Standard Tables of Height and Weight, as well as for a comprehensive atlas of bone age and skeletal development. These standards are in widespread use in the United States and abroad. The Fels database is now being used to ascertain the origins of hypertension, impaired cardiac function, and the metabolic syndrome, by analyzing childhood data of adults currently diagnosed with these conditions.
The Child Health and Development Study (CHDS) of 20,000 pregnancies began in 1959 as a companion to the Collaborative Perinatal Study. The NICHD provides support to maintain the CHDS database and serum collection. Investigators who are interested in maternal and placental origins of disease later in life currently use these resources, especially in the study of long-term effects of in utero exposure to organochlorines, such as DDT. CHDS investigators have recently documented that exposure of girls to DDT as children leads to aggressive breast cancer prior to age 50. They have also showed that exposure of male fetuses to DDT in utero leads to testicular cancer three or four decades later. They have also shown that severe hypertension prior to the 34th week of pregnancy (known as preeclampsia) increases the mortality rate seven times over the subsequent five decades of life when compared to women who did not experience preeclampsia during their pregnancies. Immunologic studies of the CHDS serum collection showed that the offspring of women exposed to toxoplasmosis, influenza A, or influenza B during their first but not their second or third trimesters have a significantly increased risk of schizophrenia as young adults.