2016 Symposium

The Saban Research Institute Symposium 2016

Toxic Stress, Resilience and Development

The Saban Research Institute auditorium was filled with attendees last Wednesday, Feb. 24 for the 2016 Annual Symposium “Toxic Stress, Resilience and Development” –a topic that has captured the attention of scientific and healthcare communities across the country.

Because excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body and brain can alter and damage a child’s development, researchers, neuroscientists and behavioral psychiatrists have begun studying “toxic stress” – exploring its causes, measuring its effects and developing interventions.

Investigators at The Saban Research Institute of CHLA are exploring not only the many risk factors, but also how best to intervene and help foster resiliency in children to promote healthy physical and emotional growth and stability. CHLA’s Institute for the Developing Mind (IDM) has become an important hub for investigators of different disciplines who are looking at ways in which the brain continues to adapt and grow throughout childhood and adolescence.

Faculty organizers of the event, Bradley Peterson, MD, Pat Levitt, PhD, of The IDM and Dean Marilyn Flynn, PhD, from the USC School of Social Work, developed an outstanding symposium program. Attendees were treated to presentations from a group of distinguished thought leaders in research, which explored a wide range of inter-related topics, including the role of psychological and educational diagnostic and mental health services in working with young children and their families to enhance resiliency; the neuro-immune mechanisms of depression; the importance of approaching education and treatment from the child’s point of view; the impact of pre- and postnatal environment on brain development during childhood and adolescence; and the social disparities in health such as persistent racial/ethnic disparities, and the effects of cumulative disadvantage and the psychosocial health determinants.

A dynamic keynote was delivered by Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, who chairs the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child whose mission is to bring credible science to bear on public policy affecting young children. As founding-director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, Shonkoff has helped bring the topic of toxic stress on children to the forefront of a national discussion.

The various presentations sparked powerful discussions throughout the day that will no doubt continue and further collaborations, leading to new ideas for reducing the effects of significant adversity on children and for promoting their healthy development.

The symposium concluded with a panel discussion, led by Levitt, recognizing that all researchers have a responsibility to better communicate and raise consciousness about the potential impact of their scientific findings in order to effect change across healthcare, education and policy making to achieve breakthrough outcomes for young children facing toxic stress.

Message from the Director, The Saban Research Institute

We know that what happens early in childhood can impact a lifetime, shaping how one experiences and interacts with the world.

We also have become increasingly aware of the profound effect that repeated adverse experiences can have. Because excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body and brain can alter and damage a child’s development, researchers, neuroscientists and behavioral psychiatrists have begun studying “toxic stress”—exploring its causes, measuring its effects and developing potential interventions.

The impact of toxic stress on cognitive and behavioral development, as well as its long-term implications for chronic disease, obesity and metabolic disorder, can touch many areas of health and behavior throughout life. Scientists at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles are exploring not only the many risk factors but also how best to intervene and help foster resiliency in children to promote healthy physical and emotional growth and stability.

The topic of toxic stress has significant crossover with the research aims of The Saban Research Institute, including Metabolism, Immunity, Infection and Inflammation (Mi3) and CHLA’s Institute for the Developing Mind (IDM), which has become an important hub for investigators of different disciplines who are looking at ways in which the brain continues to adapt and grow throughout childhood and adolescence. IDM investigators are dedicated to achieving a new understanding of what fundamentally underlies mental health and mental illness—an understanding that will allow us to translate scientific knowledge into effective treatments for children, adolescents and young adults.

We are fortunate to have with us at today’s symposium a group of distinguished thought leaders from top-tier academic research institutions. Part of the exciting lineup of internationally recognized presenters is keynote speaker Jack Shonkoff, MD, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, who has helped bring the topic of toxic stress on children to the forefront of a national discussion.

Today’s symposium will explore the many causes of toxic stress—from emotional or physical neglect to exposure to violence, environmental hazards and other adverse events—as well as the lasting effects it can have on infants and young children, and ways to mitigate its impact.

We will learn about the role of psychological and educational diagnostic and mental health services in working with young children and their families to enhance resiliency; the neuro-immune mechanisms of depression; the importance of approaching education and treatment from the child’s point of view; and the impact of pre- and postnatal environment on brain development during childhood and adolescence.

Another important topic to be explored during the course of today’s symposium is a sociological perspective on health disparities, including research on improving the clinical and community-based treatment of African-Americans with mental health disorders and chronic health conditions. Other research on social disparities in health such as persistent racial/ethnic disparities, the effects of cumulative disadvantage and the psychosocial health determinants, particularly stress and racism, will be addressed.

We will hear about a unique intervention—targeting specific issues that have been identified as problematic for young children who have experienced toxic stress—that has been shown to enhance children’s secure attachments.

We also will explore the area of social policy as it pertains to child welfare and child mental health in immigrant and refugee communities, and the global health disparities and the behavioral health of children in extreme environments and disasters, including the effect of global climate change on child development.

It is my hope that these presentations will promote continued discussion and further collaborations, leading to new ideas for reducing the effects of significant adversity on children and for promoting their healthy development.

I want to recognize symposium organizers Brad Peterson, MD, and Pat Levitt, PhD, of the Institute for the Developing Mind, and Dean Marilyn Flynn, PhD, from the University of  Southern California (USC) School of Social Work, for their leadership in planning today’s dynamic program, and to The Saban Research Institute staff members who organized this special event.

I also extend my warm gratitude to the many philanthropists with us today as well as those who could not attend, all of whom are key partners in our efforts to improve child health and make our research, education and clinical missions possible.