LITTLE ROCK, AR. (Oct. 15, 2021) – Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI) and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) have received $7.2 million in funding over five years from the National Institutes of Health to continue their participation in the nationwide HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) Study.

The HBCD Study will establish a large cohort of pregnant women and follow them and their children for at least 10 years. Findings from this cohort will provide a template of normative neurodevelopment and a better understanding of how prenatal and perinatal experiences impact brain and behavioral development. This research infrastructure can also be leveraged for urgent health needs, such as the current impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s development or future health and environmental crises.

The study involves 25 academic centers across the United States and will collect data on pregnancy and fetal development; infant and early childhood structural and functional brain imaging; anthropometrics; medical history; family history; biospecimens; and social, emotional and cognitive development. Knowledge gained from this research will help identify factors that confer risk or resilience that affect a child’s mental and physical health developmental trajectory.

The funding follows 18-month planning grants awarded to ACRI and 28 other academic centers from around the country focused on designing the HBCD Study.

In Arkansas, the work will be led by ACRI and UAMS investigators Xiawei Ou, PhD, a professor of radiology and pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Medicine; Ashley Acheson, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the UAMS College of Medicine; and Lorraine McKelvey, PhD, a professor of family and preventive medicine and pediatrics at the UAMS College of Medicine.

“We are extremely excited to be representing ACRI, UAMS and Arkansas on this landmark study working with top research institutes from across the country,” Acheson said. “We see the HBCD Study as having the potential to substantially improve our understanding of how early life experiences influence brain, cognitive and emotional development. Ultimately we expect this increased knowledge to lead to interventions to help improve outcomes for vulnerable children and their families.”

HBCD is funded by 10 institutes and offices at the National Institutes of Health, and the Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM Initiative, or NIH HEAL InitiativeSM, and is led by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The ACRI/UAMS research team also includes:

  • Aline Andres, PhD, professor of pediatrics at the UAMS College of Medicine;
  • Jessica Coker, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology at the UAMS College of Medicine;
  • Charles Glasier, MD, professor of radiology and pediatrics at the UAMS College of Medicine;
  • Whit Hall, MD, professor of pediatrics at the UAMS College of Medicine;
  • Micah Hester, PhD, professor of medical humanities and pediatrics at the UAMS College of Medicine;
  • Andrew James, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at the UAMS College of Medicine;
  • Linda Larson-Prior, PhD, professor of psychiatry, neurology, biomedical informatics, and neurobiology & developmental science at the UAMS College of Medicine; and
  • Leanne Whiteside-Mansell, EdD, professor of family and preventive medicine at the UAMS College of Medicine.


Arkansas Children's, Inc. is the only healthcare system in the state solely dedicated to caring for Arkansas' more than 700,000 children. The private, non-profit organization includes two pediatric hospitals, a pediatric research institute and USDA nutrition center, a philanthropic foundation, a nursery alliance, statewide clinics, and many education and outreach programs — all focused on fulfilling a promise to define and deliver unprecedented child health. Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) is a 336-bed, Magnet-recognized facility in Little Rock operating the state’s only Level I pediatric trauma center; the state's only burn center; the state's only Level IV neonatal intensive care unit; the state's only pediatric intensive care unit; the state’s only pediatric surgery program with Level 1 verification from the American College of Surgeons (ACS); the state’s only magnetoencephalography (MEG) system for neurosurgical planning and cutting-edge research; and the state's only nationally recognized pediatric transport program.  Additionally, ACH is nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report in four pediatric subspecialties (2021—2022): Cardiology & Heart Surgery, Nephrology, Pulmonology and Urology. Arkansas Children’s Northwest (ACNW), the first and only pediatric hospital in the Northwest Arkansas region, is a level IV pediatric trauma center. ACNW operates a 24-bed inpatient unit; a surgical unit with five operating rooms; outpatient clinics offering over 20 subspecialties; diagnostic services; imaging capabilities; occupational therapy services; and Northwest Arkansas' only pediatric emergency department, equipped with 30 exam rooms. Generous philanthropic and volunteer engagement has sustained Arkansas Children's since it began as an orphanage in 1912, and today ensures the system can deliver on its promise of unprecedented child health. To learn more, visit

UAMS is the state's only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS' clinical enterprise including its hospital, regional clinics and clinics it operates or staffs in cooperation with other providers. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. U.S. News & World Report recognized UAMS Medical Center as a Best Hospital for 2021-22; ranked its ear, nose and throat program among the top 50 nationwide for the third year; and named five areas as high performing — colon cancer surgery, diabetes, hip replacement, knee replacement and stroke. Forbes magazine ranked UAMS as seventh in the nation on its Best Employers for Diversity list. UAMS also ranked in the top 30% nationwide on Forbes’ Best Employers for Women list and was the only Arkansas employer included. UAMS has 2,876 students, 898 medical residents and six dental residents. It is the state's largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children's, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or  


The Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI) is a free-standing state-of-the-art center which provides a research environment on the ACH campus to foster research and scholarship of faculty members of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who are investigating questions relative to development, disease and treatment as it relates to the health of infants, children and adolescents. Physician and biomedical scientist investigators at ACRI and the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center (ACNC) conduct clinical, basic science, and health services research for the purpose of treating illnesses and preventing disease and thereby, improving the health of the children of Arkansas and beyond.