PGNB Research Programs

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

Program Officials: Dan Raiten and Ashley Vargas

PGNB supports research on understanding the complex biology of human milk and, using a systems biology approach, uncovering the many 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 ecological and systems biology approaches. Studies assessing how maternal and infant factors affect milk composition and lactation performance are also of interest.

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 policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders.

Program Officials: Dan Raiten and Ashley Vargas

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

The branch also supports investigations of the intersection of nutrition, within the contexts of human health and disease and the health of the planet, 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.

The Agriculture and Diet: Value Added for Nutrition, Translation, and Adaptation in a Global Ecology (ADVANTAGE) Project, led by PGNB, examines the intersection of food systems, diet, nutrition, and health.

Additional research priorities include the role of nutrition in pharmacology and the effects of nutrition on growth, the onset of puberty, and the etiology, consequences, and prevention of obesity in childhood and adolescence.

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

Program Officials: Karen Winer

PGNB supports research on growth-promoting peptides; hypothalamic-releasing factors and their influence on growth; disorders of linear growth, bone accrual, and pubertal maturation; and genetic determinants of pubertal maturation, linear growth, and skeletal anomalies.

Program Officials: Karen Winer

PGNB supports basic, translational, and clinical research in areas related to pediatric endocrinology, including studies on growth and pubertal maturation; congenital and acquired pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, and gonadal disorders, and the development of new therapies for these disorders; and bone health, including the determinants of peak bone mass and factors that interfere with normal bone mass accrual.

Program Officials: Layla Esposito

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

Program Officials: Dan Raiten and Ashley Vargas

Within the broad DOHaD context, PGNB supports research to evaluate the role of gene-environment interactions on health outcomes from the pre-pregnancy period throughout pregnancy and into early childhood. The branch also supports systems science-related approaches to better identify biomarkers and bioindicators of disease susceptibility and targets for intervention, as well as research to detect 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.

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 are also of interest. The branch also encourages work evaluating the relationship between epigenetics and the developmental origins of health and disease utilizing a systems biology approach.

Program Officials: Layla Esposito and Karen Winer

Research priorities in this area include obesity, cardiometabolic aberrations (e.g., insulin resistance and diabetes), and skeletal health.

  • Obesity: The branch has long supported efforts to explain the genetic, environmental, and behavioral origins of obesity, and it maintains a leadership role in the NIH-wide Obesity Research Task Force and the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) external link.
  • 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, further research is needed to develop preventive strategies and therapeutic agents for bone disorders associated with chronic illness. A long-term branch goal 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. Studies of genetic determinants of bone mass accrual and peak bone mass are also encouraged. Other topics of programmatic interest include the study of fat-muscle-bone interactions during childhood and adolescence, and novel regulators of bone formation.
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