PGNB Research Programs

The following information describes the branch's research programs and program areas.

Program Officials: Andrew Bremer, Dan Raiten, Ashley Vargas

PGNB supports research on understanding the complex biology of human milk and using a systems biology approach to uncover the myriad factors that influence the composition and function of human milk.

The Breastmilk Ecology: Genesis of Infant Nutrition (BEGIN) Project, which examines the ecology of human milk and its functional implications for both lactating parent and infant, is part of these efforts. Supporting and collecting evidence to update the human milk reference standards used in research is also a priority for the branch.

Studies to expand knowledge of the many factors influencing the composition and function of human milk are encouraged, especially those using a systems biology approach. Studies are also encouraged to assess how maternal and infant factors affect milk composition and lactation performance.

PGNB is also involved in the Human Milk Composition Initiative, which supports development of human milk composition data in the United States and Canada for use by federal policy, program, and other stakeholders.

Program Officials: Andrew Bremer, Dan Raiten, Ashley Vargas

PGNB supports research on the complex nutritional relationships between the lactating parent and their fetus, the placental transfer of nutrients, and the role of nutrition in infant development and across the lifespan. Research interests include the nutrient requirements of normal, premature, and growth-restricted infants, and the contributions of breastfeeding and human milk and its components to optimal infant nutrition.

PGNB also supports investigations of the intersection of nutrition, within the global health context, and the development and implementation of dietary recommendations to promote health and prevent disease.

The Biomarkers of Nutrition for Development–Knowledge Indicating Dietary Sufficiency (BOND-KIDS) Project, led by PGNB, examines the nutritional needs and assessment issues for school-age children (5 through 19 years) and addresses a range of issues impacting the domestic and global food and nutrition enterprise, such as food insecurity.

Additional research priorities include the effects of nutrition on growth, the onset of puberty, and the etiology, consequences, and prevention of obesity in childhood and adolescence. Special emphasis is placed on studying molecular and biochemical aspects of nutrition, particularly in relationship to the growth of cells, tissues, organ systems, and individuals, as well as studying the role of nutrition in pharmacology.

PGNB also promotes the development of new non-invasive methods for assessing nutritional status, particularly during infancy, adolescence, pregnancy, and lactation.

Program Officials: Andrew Bremer, Karen Winer, Dan Raiten

PGNB supports research on growth-promoting peptides; hypothalamic-releasing factors and their influence on growth; disorders of linear growth, bone accrual, and pubertal maturation; genetic determinants of skeletal deformities; obesity; and other aspects of physiologic development.

Program Officials: Andrew Bremer, Karen Winer

PGNB supports basic, translational, and clinical research in areas related to pediatric endocrinology, including studies on pubertal maturation, obesity, and other aspects of physiologic development; disorders of linear growth, bone accrual, and pubertal maturation; genetic determinants of skeletal deformities, bone mass accrual, and peak bone mass; congenital and environmental causes of childhood obesity and potential interventions; and the molecular physiology of congenital and acquired pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, and gonadal disorders, and the development of new therapies for these disorders.

Program Officials: Andrew Bremer, Layla Esposito

PGNB supports research on identifying early risk factors and sensitive time periods for exposure to risks for childhood obesity, the pathogenesis of childhood obesity, and novel interventions for the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity.

Program Officials: Andrew Bremer, Dan Raiten, Ashley Vargas

PGNB supports research focused on the developmental origins of health and disease. One specific focus is on evaluating the role of gene-environment interactions from the pre-pregnancy period throughout pregnancy and into early childhood on health outcomes. PGNB also supports systems’ science-related approaches to better identify biomarkers and bioindicators of disease susceptibility and targets for intervention, as well as research that focuses on detecting the earliest aberrations in molecular and biochemical pathways that lead to disease later in life.

PGNB’s broad portfolio on issues related to preventing chronic diseases emphasizes a continued need for research on childhood biomarkers for disease later in life, as well as steps which can be taken during childhood to mitigate or prevent conditions such as atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, and osteoporosis. Decision science-related research, which may inform the translation of evidence-based information about childhood risk factors for these diseases into clinical practice and public health interventions, is also supported.

PGNB also encourages studies that evaluate epigenetic changes, which may serve as markers of longitudinal changes during growth and development and of exposure to nutrients, stress, and xenobiotics in the environment. Evaluating the relationship between epigenetics and the developmental origins of health and disease utilizing a systems biology approach is encouraged as well.

Program Officials: Andrew Bremer, Layla Esposito, Karen Winer

Research priorities in this area are obesity, hyperlipidemia, and insulin resistance in childhood and adolescence. Special emphasis is placed on developing methods for detecting and treating individuals with diabetes in childhood and for developing successful techniques of immunomodulation to prevent or mitigate the body's immune attack on the pancreatic beta cell. Similarly, studies of obesity and hyperlipidemia focus on the etiology, consequences, treatment, and prevention of childhood obesity and hyperlipidemia. Studies of calcium intake during adolescence and the prevention of osteoporosis later in life are also encouraged.

  • Obesity: The branch has provided long-term support to scientists who are working to explain the genetic, environmental, and behavioral origins of obesity, including recent initiatives on the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity. PGNB also leads an NICHD working group on obesity, including the origins and consequences of maternal obesity during pregnancy.
  • Diabetes: Branch initiatives have successfully investigated continuous glucose monitoring devices and novel therapies mitigating hypoglycemia in children with type 1 diabetes mellitus.
  • Osteoporosis: The branch has a longstanding interest in supporting research focused on the origins and prevention of osteoporosis and skeletal disorders. Much has been learned about the predictors of peak bone mass in children through the PGNB-initiated Bone Mineral Density in Childhood Study; however, there remains a need to develop preventive strategies and therapeutic agents for pediatric bone disorders. A long-term goal of the branch is to determine ways to maximize peak bone mass in children and, thereby, reduce the burden of osteoporosis later in life. The branch also encourages studies of interventions to ameliorate bone density decrements among children with severe chronic illness, such as childhood cancer survivors or children with HIV/AIDS. Studies of genetic determinants of bone mass accrual and peak bone mass are also encouraged. Topics of programmatic interest further include the study of fat-muscle-bone interactions during childhood and adolescence and the novel regulators of bone formation.
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