Progress on Cross-Cutting Themes: Highlights

Please note that some progress noted for scientific research themes may also address cross-cutting themes, even though they are not listed on this page.

Global Health

  • NEW: Implementation research to reduce noncommunicable disease burden in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) and Tribal nations during critical life stages and key transition periods
    NICHD and other NIH components are collaborating to fund research in LMICs to foster innovative approaches to overcoming barriers to the adoption, adaptation, integration, scale-up, and sustainability of evidence-based interventions, tools, policies, and guidelines. The interventions under study will address critical life stages (e.g., infancy, childhood, adolescence, pregnancy, older adults) and key transitions between life stages to reduce health risk and/or enhance positive health and lifestyle behaviors. Learn more: PAR-22-132.
  • NEW: Global survey shows pregnant women’s COVID-19 knowledge affects infection rates (PMID: 35157346)
    Researchers examined the knowledge, attitudes, and preventive practices regarding COVID-19 in pregnant women in seven LMICs, from September 2020 through October2021. Overall, more than one-half of the women were able to name at least three symptoms, and knew three or more preventive measures. However, nearly one-quarter of the women avoided or reduced prenatal care visits, and 7.5% planned to avoid hospital delivery due to fear of COVID-19 exposure. Researchers noted considerable variation among the sites, with a higher percentage of women in Guatemala (50.6%), Pakistan (39.6%), India (28.6%), and Kenya (21.0%) planning to avoid prenatal care compared with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, and Bangladesh, where percentages ranged from 5.4% to 10%.
  • Interventions for stigma reduction to improve HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care in LMICs
    NICHD is working with other NIH components to study stigma as a factor in HIV transmission, and attempt to eliminate or mitigate the aspects of stigma that limit beneficial health outcomes for those individuals and communities with and at risk for HIV. The effort will also conduct exploratory studies to determine the feasibility of stigma-reduction interventions related to HIV prevention, treatment, and/or care in LMICs. Learn more: PAR-21-344.
  • Global brain and nervous system disorders research across the lifespan
    In collaboration with other NIH components, NICHD is supporting research to understand the trajectory of brain and other nervous system-related function and disorders throughout life. This work is specifically focused on those living in LMICs with these conditions. Learn more: PAR-21-311; PAR-21-319.

Health Disparities

  • NEW: Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx®) Underserved Populations (UP) emergency awards: Social, ethical, and behavioral implications research on disparities in COVID-19 testing among underserved and vulnerable populations
    An NIH-wide initiative provides an expedited funding mechanism to support Phase III of the RADx-UP initiative. These 2-year, community-engaged research projects will focus on: (1) the urgent need for social, ethical, and behavioral implications research to understand and reduce barriers to COVID-19 testing, as well as COVID-19 disparities that arise from barriers to testing among underserved and vulnerable populations; and (2) psychological and communication science interventions to improve uptake of testing and vaccination. A companion funding announcement highlights the urgent need to leverage rapid SARS-CoV-2 testing, which is often self-administered or administered outside of healthcare settings, to understand and address COVID-19 morbidity and mortality disparities among U.S. underserved and vulnerable populations. Projects related to rapid testing will examine SARS-CoV-2 infection patterns and interventions to increase access to and uptake of diagnostic methods through the RADx-UP initiative. Learn more: RFA-OD-22-005 and RFA-OD-22-006.
  • Disparities in maternal mortality between Black and White women are concentrated among a few causes of death (PMID: 34383557)
    NICHD-funded researchers re-examined information on death certificates from 2016 and 2017 and found that the maternal mortality rate among non-Hispanic Black women was 3.5 times higher than among non-Hispanic White women. Previous standard analyses had indicated a 2.5-times higher death rate for Black women. The new analysis also revealed that the disparities were concentrated among a few causes of death. Postpartum cardiomyopathy and blood pressure disorders preeclampsia and eclampsia were leading causes of maternal death for Black women, with mortality rates five times higher than those for White women. Pregnant and postpartum Black women were also two to three times more likely than White women to die of hemorrhage or embolisms.
  • Women with disabilities have higher risk of birth complications and death (PMID: 34910153)
    NICHD-supported researchers analyzed data from more than 223,000 deliveries in 19 U.S. hospitals, including about 2,200 women with a disability. They found that pregnant women with disabilities had a much higher risk for severe pregnancy- and birth-related complications and death than other pregnant women. Women with disabilities were at higher risk for a wide variety of pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, placenta previa, hemorrhage, thromboembolism, and infection.

Infectious Diseases

  • Adolescent Medicine Trials Network for HIV/AIDS Interventions (ATN)
    NICHD is leading the renewal of ATN, a clinical research network that develops and conducts innovative behavioral, community-based, translational, therapeutic, microbicide, and vaccine trials in youth ages 13 years to 24 years with or at risk for HIV. ATN has a primary focus on including minors in this important research. Learn more: RFA-HD-23-020, RFA-HD-23-021.
  • Weekly COVID-19 testing helps reduce transmission in schools for children with disabilities (PMID: 34465306)
    People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) are at higher risk for developing severe disease and complications from SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, virtual learning also is difficult for children with IDDs and their families. To address concerns about the spread of the virus in schools, researchers measured SARS-CoV-2 transmission rates in six schools for children with IDDs. Reassuringly, the rates of infection in the six schools were lower than rates seen in the surrounding community.


  • The role of nutrition in care and development of preterm infants
    Currently, there are no universally accepted standards for nutritional care of preterm infants (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy) that cover the full developmental range of these infants, from those born at the limits of viability to those born "near term." NICHD launched a new initiative to address the significant gaps that exist in our understanding of the following: nutrient needs of infants; factors to be considered in the transitioning of infants from parenteral to enteral feeding; specific needs of infants currently cared for in neonatal intensive care units; and data needed to support the establishment of standards of nutritional care for preterm infants. Learn more: RFA-HD-22-023.
  • Brain receptor linked to puberty and growth (PMID: 34732894)
    Researchers identified a brain receptor that links childhood nutrition to the timing of puberty and growth. People with mutations in the gene for the receptor started puberty later and were often shorter than average. The findings help explain how adequate nutrition affects growth and sexual development.


  • Genetic testing of the siblings of newborns with cancer genes could reduce rare pediatric cancer deaths by half (PMID: 34661666)
    Based on current rates for childhood cancers associated with 11 genetic mutations, researchers estimated the number of siblings who would have the mutation, and who would be expected to develop cancer before the age of 20. The scientists found that conducting genetic tests on the siblings of newborns found to have mutations in any one of 11 genes most commonly associated with childhood-onset cancers could reduce deaths from these rare cancers by about one-half.
  • New, easier method shows promise for detecting tuberculosis (TB) infection in young children (PMID: 34001096)
    Although effective treatment exists, many children die from TB without being treated, mostly because it is difficult to detect the infection before it is too late. Collecting mucus samples from young children is extremely challenging and often delays TB diagnosis. Scientists tested a new method of diagnosis that uses tiny samples of blood instead of mucus. The new test detected TB infections with a high degree of accuracy, suggesting a useful alternative that could lead to earlier TB diagnosis and treatment.
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