Gene Brody & Colleagues Awarded $10 million NIH Center of Excellence Grant


Gene Brody & Colleagues Awarded $10 million NIH Center of Excellence Grant

Photo by Amy Ware

Growing up in poverty and experiencing racial discrimination can affect physical health, and a research team led by Owens Institute Fellow, Gene Brody, a Regents’ Professor and director of the Center for Family Research have been awarded a $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to explore how.

Brody’s team, which includes Steven Beach, OIBR Fellow, professor in psychology and CFR co-director; Brett Clementz, OIBR Fellow and professor in psychology; Katherine Ehrlich, OIBR Affiliate and assistant professor in psychology; Steven Kogan, OIBR Fellow and Athletic Association Professor of Human Development; and Lawrence Sweet, OIBR Fellow and Gary R. Sperduto Professor in Clinical Psychology, will build on 15 years of research funded by previous NIH Center of Excellence awards to advance next-generation research of risk, resilience and health among Black young people living in the southeastern United States.

Growing up in poverty is a powerful variable that forecasts all facets of development— particularly health—throughout a person’s life, according to Brody’s research. In the United States, he said, 20% of all children live near or below the poverty line, and the figures are higher for rural Black youth, whose poverty rates hover around 50%.

“Because many Black children live in economic hardship, they’re at elevated risk for health problems across their life span,” said Brody, principal investigator for the grant. “They are more likely to have shorter life spans than white residents who grow up in the same places.”

The grant will fund studies to address three questions:

  • How does economic hardship affect the immune system and the functioning of brain circuits that influence health and well-being?
  • Can prevention programs protect Black youth from the deleterious effects of poverty and racial discrimination on their immune systems and neural circuitries?
  • How are health risks in the immune system and in the brain transmitted across three generations, and what shields children from the transmission of health risks from one generation to another?


The grant will also provide a mentoring program for early career scientists, who will work with more experienced researchers from prevention science, neuroscience, health psychology/immunology, developmental psychology, clinical psychology and biological anthropology.

The center will serve as a national resource for several groups: Black families who want to shield their children and adolescents from the health effects of stress; scientists interested in studying health disparities; and public health practitioners who are developing prevention programs for young people.

The  Center for Family Research was founded 35 years ago to bring together scholars from diverse disciplines to explore innovative and dynamic ways of examining family life. Scientists at CFR conduct basic research involving rural Black families and children to understand why many families and children are resilient despite living in very challenging conditions.

“We take that (research) information and use it to inform the development of prevention programs for rural Black children and youth and their families,” Brody said. “These programs that we’ve tested in randomized clinical trials and have shown to be effective are now being disseminated around the nation. Families from Harlem, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Pittsburgh, Selma, Mobile and places in between are participating in these prevention efforts.”

Additional co-investigators include Edith Chen, Tom McDade, Greg Miller, Robin Nusslock and Todd Parrish, all at Northwestern University, and Michael Windle at Emory University.

CFR is a center of the Owens Institute for Behavioral Research and receives support from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, among others.