Major Depression Pediatric Research and Clinical Trials

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Children’s Hospital Boston is home to the world’s most extensive research enterprise at a pediatric hospital. We also have many partners with the top research, biotech and health care organizations, and we work together to find innovative ways to improve kids’ health.

At Children’s Department of Psychiatry, we’re committed to helping your child live a full and healthy life. Our experienced team of researchers focus on finding answers to two simple questions: What puts a child at risk for mental illness? How can we help?

What puts a child at risk for mental illness?

1. Problem: Depression and anti-social behaviors are increasingly prevalent among children and teenagers, yet their causes and the best approaches to treatment are still not well understood.

Innovative solutions:

  • William Beardslee, MD, Academic Chair, Department of Psychiatry led a long-term study that followed 275 children from 143 families in which the parents had depression or several risk factors for depression. From this, he identified risk factors for depression in children and went on to implement a prevention program for families in crisis. This research effort is now focused on helping other investigators use the approach and finding still more ways to prevent and treat childhood depression. Learn More
  • Researcher Michelle Bosquet, PhD, studies the impact of the mother’s anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on infant emotional and physical development. She is investigating associations between mothers’ traumatic life experiences and the abilities of mothers and infants to regulate their emotions and physical responses to stress. She hopes this will help us design programs that prevent mental health problems in vulnerable children.
  • The research of Enrico Mezzacappa, MD, examines the role of a child’s social and familial environments in the development of aggressive behaviors. His goal is to understand how children develop the basic cognitive processes central to prosocial behavior, and how this can be encouraged. Learn More.   

How can we help?

1. Problem: For many patients and families, the challenges of coping with chronic illness are exacerbated by emotional and mental stressors.

Innovative solutions:

  • Psychiatrist-in-Chief, David M. DeMaso, MD, focuses on how children and their families respond to the psychological stresses associated with chronic illness. DeMaso developed the Experience Journal,an innovative computer-based intervention that uses the reflections of children, parents, and healthcare givers on the experience of childhood depression, pediatric heart disease, organ transplants and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Lisa Scharff, PhD, associate director, Pain Treatment Service, focuses on the psychological and behavioral factors involved in how children and adolescents experience of pain and disability. She also conducts trials of nonpharmacological pain management strategies, such as biofeedback and hypnosis.

2. Problem: Research has shown that preterm infants are significantly more at risk for attention deficit disorder, lower IQ, difficulties in social-emotional functioning and increased need for specialized school services.

Innovative solution:

  • Heidelise Als, PhD, director, Neurobehavioral Infant and Child Studies, has developed an individualized, behaviorally-based developmental care model which is changing Newborn Intensive Care Units (NICUs) around the world. Study results are consistent and demonstrate improved lung function, feeding behavior and growth; reduced length of hospitalization, improved neurodevelopmental function, and improved brain function for the infants who received this care, as compared to the control groups who received the respective NICU's current best practice. Learn More

We also have researchers whose focus is pinpointed on behavioral or emotional aspects of specific diagnoses:

  • Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich, MD, medical director, Outpatient Services, conducts research on psychiatric disorders in children with epilepsy and pediatric bipolar disorder. He approaches these disorders from two directions --probing the bases for these disorders as well as seeking better treatments for them. Learn More
  • Susan Waisbren, PhD, directs a research program on the behavioral and developmental aspects of phenylketonuria and other inborn errors of metabolism. Her research focuses on intergenerational considerations in PKU and the developmental implications of a statewide newborn screening program. Learn More.
  • The research of Kerim Munir, MD, MPH, DSc, is focused on defining the physiological underpinnings of autism and other developmental disorders. His recent work has explored the possibility of an autoimmune origin for autism. Learn More

Find out more about our research.


We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

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