NICHD Research Priorities

NICHD funds research in areas relevant to normal and abnormal human development, including contraception, fertilization, pregnancy, childbirth, prenatal and postnatal development, childhood development through adolescence, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and rehabilitation medicine.

If you have questions about projects within a specific research area, you can find an NICHD program officer (PDF - 293 KB) to contact with questions.

Grant applications and project proposals must fall within the missions of the scientific branches of NICHD's Division of Extramural Research or its National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research. Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to visit these pages for recent scientific advances and emerging public health topics.

Specific research priorities of DER branches and NCMRR are as follows.

Child Development and Behavior Branch

High-priority research areas include:

  • Bilingual and biliteracy development
  • Social, environmental, and economic factors (precisely operationalized) and biological factors that impact infant and child brain development and function, stress reactivity, adaptive behavior development, and school functioning (both short- and long-term outcomes)
  • Behavioral and health promotion interventions within pediatric primary care
  • Psychosocial adjustment for individuals in high-risk environments
  • School readiness skills in economically and socially disadvantaged children
  • Reading, writing, and mathematics processes, learning, and learning disabilities
  • Reasoning

Low-priority research areas include:

  • Human or animal model (primarily mammalian) research focused on a specific disease, organ system, or disability that lacks a developmental focus or does not address underlying developmental processes
    • Please note that applications involving avian models focused solely on vocal learning or language development and without a specific cognitive or brain development focus are not accepted. Invertebrate models are also not accepted
  • Research using animal models to study maternal behavior without a specific focus on brain, immunologic, or neuroendocrine factors that impact maternal or offspring behavior or without a focus on mechanisms underlying offspring cognition, brain development, or health
  • Research focused primarily on professional development training of teachers or administrative personnel at the elementary school level or above

Contraception Research Branch

High-priority research areas include:

  • Developing new methods to deliver pharmacologic agents to the sites of gamete production, maturation, and/or function
  • Developing methods that prevent both fertility and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections
  • Comprehensive identification, characterization, and/or validation of potential non-steroidal male and female contraceptive targets
  • Developing more efficient and/or predictive strategies or methods to validate potential contraceptive targets
  • Characterizing testicular stem cells to identify targets for male contraception
  • Elucidating the transport mechanism of drugs and/or drug-like molecules across the blood-testis and/or blood-epididymal barrier(s)

Low-priority research areas include:

  • Basic biological research with no reference or immediate relevance to contraceptive use or contraceptive method development
  • Research to use, develop, or test methods that utilize chemicals known to have toxic properties
  • Research to develop contraceptive methods that use chemicals that cannot be developed into contraceptive methods due to existing intellectual property considerations

Developmental Biology and Structural Variation Branch

High-priority research areas include:

  • Novel, exploratory/developmental projects of high potential significance relevant to branch research areas
  • Developing tools or new animal models for studying embryonic development or structural birth defects
  • Projects using stem cells or iPSCs for understanding human embryonic development and birth defects
  • Projects addressing developmental metabolomics as related to embryonic processes or the etiology of structural birth defects

Low-priority research areas include:

  • Basic cell biology and molecular biology projects addressing cellular processes that are not specifically related to embryonic development, such as cell cycle control, organelle biogenesis, membrane structure and function, protein processing, DNA replication, damage and repair, etc.
  • Projects using stem cells or iPSCs to study disease in adults
  • Developing plants or unicellular organisms, such as bacteria, archaea, protozoa, unicellular algae, and unicellular fungi

Fertility and Infertility Branch

High-priority research areas include:

  • Studies of gamete quality and pre-placental processes as they relate to the etiology of early pregnancy loss
  • Studies on transgenerational epigenetic inheritance
  • Studies to investigate the relationship of fertility status to overall health and disease
  • Genetic basis of idiopathic male and female fertility
  • Impact of nutrition and metabolism on fertility
  • Identification of biomarkers to study reproductive transitions
  • Development of innovative technologies and model systems that can advance progress in reproductive biology and medicine

Low-priority research areas include:

  • Basic biology of meiosis with no reference or immediate relevance to fertility or reproduction
  • Cellular mechanisms of epigenetic regulation with no reference or immediate relevance to a reproductive phenotype or function
  • Biology of ovarian and testicular cancer
  • Male urogenital tract studies with a specific focus on urology
  • Non-mammalian models of uterine function
  • Examination of neuroendocrine signaling cascades in isolation from networks

Gynecologic Health and Disease Branch

High-priority research areas include:

  • Research involving longitudinal studies that include relevant gynecologic questions
  • Delineating the genetic, cellular, molecular, environmental, and psychosocial factors underlying the etiology of chronic gynecologic pain syndromes and other gynecologic disorders
  • Developing novel, non-hormonal pharmacologic treatments for gynecologic disorders
  • Developing novel imaging methods and biomarkers that distinguish normal anatomy and physiology from the presence of gynecologic disorders
  • Investigating the genome, epigenome, and/or transcriptome as they impact development, progression, and/or treatment response in gynecologic conditions
  • Investigating the role of endogenous stem cells in the etiology or treatment of gynecologic disorders
  • Transdisciplinary research based on findings from diverse fields to advance basic and mechanistic understanding of gynecologic health and disease

Low-priority research areas include:

  • Studies on interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel syndrome, incontinence (fecal or urinary), or sexual dysfunction due to causes other than pelvic floor disorders
  • Research on general pain mechanisms or treatments that use female gynecologic pain only as a model, rather than more tailored approaches
  • Studies investigating interventions for gynecologic disorders that are within the mission of other institutes or centers, such as alternative/complementary or cognitive behavioral therapies

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Branch

High-priority research areas include:

  • Interdisciplinary studies emphasizing the cellular, genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors that contribute to the cognitive and behavioral manifestations of intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs), such as Down, Fragile X, and Rett syndromes; inborn errors of metabolism; and autism spectrum disorders
  • Research on one or more comorbid conditions of IDDs, such as disordered sleep, self-injurious behaviors, obesity, gastrointestinal dysfunction, seizures/epilepsy, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression, psychosis, and related mental health disorders
  • Research on the development and/or implementation of new screening tests for the prenatal, newborn, and early childhood periods that assesses the efficiency and effectiveness of translating these tools into clinical care and the community setting
  • Research establishing the validity of biomarkers and outcome measures for IDD symptoms, severity assessments, and treatments, especially outcomes targeting cognitive (including language), behavioral (adaptive or maladaptive), social, and medical issues
  • Research examining transitional time periods of interest for IDDs, including pre-symptomatic, adolescent to adulthood, middle adulthood to aging (e.g., prevalence of dementia in IDD populations), and causes of mortality
  • Developing, disseminating, and implementing treatments for IDDs that impact clinical care and improve quality of life, including physiological, cognitive, and behavioral manifestations

Low-priority research areas include:

  • Research that focuses on parent or family outcomes rather than outcomes of the individual with an IDD
  • Research that focuses on fundamental mechanisms of genes with tangential relationship to IDDs

Maternal and Pediatric Infectious Disease Branch

High-priority research areas include:

  • HIV: Cure/remission in infants and children
  • HIV: Adolescent prevention
  • HIV: Adverse pregnancy and infant outcomes related to prevention or treatment
  • Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, including their impact on the pediatric nervous system
  • Immune cross-talk in infant immune system development

Low-priority research areas include:

  • Basic biomedical research focused on neurocognitive dysfunction in HIV/AIDS
  • Research applications on HIV and other infectious diseases where the focus and/or impact on infants, children, adolescents, and pregnant women represent only a minority of the work proposed
  • Research with multiple behavioral and/or biological outcomes that are of relevance to HIV (and/or specified infectious disease), but for which HIV (and/or the specified infectious disease) is not the focus

Obstetric and Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics Branch

High-priority research areas include:

  • Developmental pharmacology and pathophysiology of pregnancy
  • New drug development and drug repurposing
  • Novel alternative designs for pediatric and obstetric clinical trials
  • Outcome measures and biomarkers for pediatric and obstetric clinical trials
  • Pediatric formulations
  • Therapeutic devices
  • Developmental pharmacogenomics, toxicogenomics, and epigenomics
  • Pharmacokinetics, safety, and efficacy of pharmaceuticals in pregnant/obese pregnant teenagers

Low-priority research areas include:

  • Pediatric cancer and pediatric cancer medication development
    • Applications in these areas should be directed to the National Cancer Institute, unless they address information (e.g., identification of biomarkers) that can be generalized for non-cancerous conditions
  • Diseases, disorders, or conditions that are within the research mission of another NIH institute or center, unless information from the study can be applied directly to pediatric or obstetric populations

Pediatric Growth and Nutrition Branch

High-priority research areas include:

  • Interaction of nutrients and the microbiome
  • Antimicrobial activity of breast milk
  • Implications of and factors influencing breastfeeding
  • Determinants of peak bone mass and peak bone strength
  • Development of tools or new animal models leading to novel treatment methods for congenital endocrine disorders
  • Hormonal regulation of bone, muscle, and adipose tissue
  • Biological basis and implications of infant feeding practices in term and preterm infants
  • Identification of early risk factors for childhood obesity and novel interventions for prevention and treatment during the prenatal period and early childhood

Pediatric Trauma and Critical Illness Branch

High-priority research areas include:

  • Pediatric critical care medicine, epidemiology, pathophysiology, and prevention and management of critical illness
  • Ethical, translational, and applied research in pediatric critical care practice
  • Injury prevention, trauma, and emergency care
  • Psychological trauma, traumatic stress, violence and violence-related injury, and child maltreatment

Low-priority research areas include:

  • Studies of adolescent behavioral outcomes or developmental trajectories of post-injury outcomes
  • Research on bullying, teen dating violence, or interpersonal processes
  • Studies in which the preponderance of the science is focused on child developmental/parenting processes and outcomes
  • Studies examining mental illness or psychopathology as primary outcomes
  • Studies in which the primary aim is understanding the pathophysiology of post-traumatic stress disorder  
  • Studies focused on chronic conditions, unless the primary aim of the science is on treatment in the pediatric intensive care unit or the prevention of a chronic condition from progressing to a critical illness
  • Projects in which critical care is provided exclusively in the neonatal intensive care unit
  • Studies of treatment in the emergency department that are not related to trauma or to severe, potentially life-threatening illness
  • Studies of chronic/long-term rehabilitation or rehabilitation related to a chronic condition

Population Dynamics Branch

High-priority research areas include:

  • Behavioral research on the use and non-use of contraception
  • Health and disease across the lifespan
  • Multilevel interactions and inputs to human health and development, including gene–environment interactions

Low-priority research areas include:

  • Relationship education, relationship/marriage therapy, or interventions related to relationship quality, marriage, or divorce
  • Couples communication, except as it relates to unintended pregnancy, contraception, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections
  • Couples therapy for infertility
  • Attitudes toward hypothetical contraceptive method(s)
  • Medical interventions, except those related to reproductive health
  • Secondary analysis of quantitative data from non-representative samples
  • Quantitative and qualitative data collection based on non-representative samples, except as a feasibility study leading to population-representative data collection

Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch

High-priority research areas include:

  • Improving the health of women before, during, and after pregnancy
  • Improving pregnancy outcomes
  • Addressing the burden of stillbirth and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Diabetes during pregnancy
  • Elimination of neonatal pain
  • Global perinatal health
  • Normal and abnormal placental biology
  • Perinatal health disparities
  • Studies addressing preterm birth and its consequences

Low-priority research areas include:

  • Management of maternal behavioral dysfunction and psychiatric disorders; neurobiology of repair and regeneration during development; and developmental immunology

National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research 

High-priority research areas include:

  • Multimodal approaches promoting plasticity and sensorimotor function, particularly the combination of physical therapy with regenerative, pharmacological, or stimulation treatments
  • Developing objective measures and biomarkers that may predict rehabilitation treatment response, monitor functional progress, and tailor interventions to the individual abilities, needs, and resources of the person with a disability
  • Developing scalable strategies and technologies to monitor outcomes in real-world settings (e.g., home, community, workplace, and school), including the use of engineering and social science to understand environmental supports and barriers, monitor individual participation, understand health service access, and support health and independence
  • Identifying, preventing, and treating key secondary conditions associated with physical impairments and disabilities
  • Addressing key lifespan transitional issues, such as the physical and developmental transition from adolescence to early adulthood and functional independence

Low-priority research areas include:

  • Studies focused primarily on pathophysiology
  • Continued development/refinement of existing technologies
  • Development of animal models