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2020 Distinguished Scientist Award

W. Tom Boyce, MD

Each year the Child Mind Institute’s Scientific Research Council selects an exceptional researcher for the Distinguished Scientist Award, in recognition of an outstanding contribution to child and adolescent psychiatry, psychology or developmental neuroscience. The award honors contributions either to clinical science or basic science. The award carries a prize of $25,000 and is presented at the Child Mind Institute’s Annual Child Advocacy Award Dinner. The award recipient, along with several other scientists selected because they have been influenced by recipient’s work, are featured presenters at our next On the Shoulders of Giants scientific symposium.

W. Tom Boyce, MD, is a leading expert on the interplay between neurobiological and psychosocial processes — an interplay that leads to socially partitioned differences in childhood health, development and disease.

Studying the interactive influences of socioeconomic adversities and neurobiological responses, Dr. Boyce has demonstrated how psychological stress and neurobiological reactivity to aversive social contexts operate conjointly to produce both physical and mental health disorders in childhood populations. A central goal of his work is to develop a new synthesis between biomedical and social epidemiologic accounts of human pathogenesis and to articulate the public health implications of that synthetic view.

Dr. Boyce is professor emeritus of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, where he formerly served as Lisa and John Pritzker Distinguished Professor of Developmental and Behavioral Health. He previously taught at the University of California, Berkeley and at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of the book The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive, which was published in 2019. Nicki Bush, PhD, is an associate professor in the University of California, San Francisco Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics and the Director of Research for the Division of Developmental Medicine.

Dr. Bush’s research focuses on the manner in which early social contexts interface with individual differences to affect developmental trajectories across the life course. She examines how socioeconomic, parental and environmental risks for maladaptive behavior and developmental psychopathology are modulated by individual differences in children’s temperamental, neurobiological and genetic reactivity to stress. She also investigates the ways in which contextual experiences of adversity become biologically embedded by changing children’s developing physiologic systems and epigenetic processes, thereby shaping individual differences that mediate and moderate the effects of context on trajectories of development and mental health.

Her research has examined relations among biobehavioral predispositions (for example, temperament and physiology) and stressful life circumstances (for example, poverty, parenting and neighborhood) in the prediction of a broad range of children’s mental health outcomes. Her examinations of how social disadvantage interacts with and alters children’s biological stress response systems aim to clarify the etiology of children’s mental and physical health outcomes and subsequent adult health.