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Opening Plenary Keynote


Learning Together: Finding Common Ground and Language Between Research and Lived Experience

We are excited to announce the Opening Plenary keynote speaker Diana W. Bianchi, MD, Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. During the Opening Plenary, Dr. Bianchi will share about her leadership at NICHD and her push for more meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities in the research process as well as a stronger connection between clinical and translational research. Following the keynote, NICHD Deputy Director Alison Cernich, PhD will lead a live Q&A session for our network and attendees

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Diana W. Bianchi, MD

Director, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Head of the Prenatal Genomics and Therapy Section, Medical Genetics Branch, National Human Genome Research Institute

Diana W. Bianchi, MD, is the director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and head of the Prenatal Genomics and Therapy Section for the Medical Genetics Branch at National Human Genome Research Insitute (NHGRI) . She oversees the research on pediatric health and development, maternal health, reproductive health, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and rehabilitation medicine, among other areas. These efforts include managing a staff of approximately 1,400 people and an annual budget of approximately $1.5 billion. Dr. Bianchi serves as an ambassador and spokesperson for NICHD.

Dr. Bianchi received her B.A. magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania and her M.D. from Stanford University School of Medicine. She completed her residency training in pediatrics at the Children's Hospital, Boston, and her postdoctoral fellowship training in both Medical Genetics and Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at Harvard. She is board-certified in all three specialties and is a practicing medical geneticist with special expertise in reproductive genetics and genomics. Dr. Bianchi's translational research focuses on two broad themes: prenatal genomics with the goal of advancing noninvasive prenatal DNA screening and diagnosis and investigating the fetal transcriptome to develop new therapies for genetic disorders that can be given prenatally.

Dr. Bianchi has published over 300 peer-reviewed articles, and she is one of four authors of Fetology: Diagnosis and Management of the Fetal Patient. This book won the Association of American Publishers award for best textbook in clinical medicine in 2000. The second edition was published in April 2010 and is in its third printing. It has been translated into Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish.

Dr. Bianchi is recognized widely for her leadership roles. She spent 23 years at Tufts Medical Center, where she was the founding executive director of the Mother Infant Research Institute, as well as the Natalie V. Zucker Professor of Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology at Tufts University School of Medicine. Dr. Bianchi also was the vice chair for Pediatric Research at the Floating Hospital for Children, Boston. From 2011 through 2015, she served on the National Advisory Council of NICHD. She is currently editor-in-chief of the international journal Prenatal Diagnosis and is a past president of the International Society for Prenatal Diagnosis and the Perinatal Research Society. She is a former member of the Board of Directors of the American Society for Human Genetics and a former council member of both the Society for Pediatric Research and the American Pediatric Society. She was elected to membership in the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) in 2013.

Dr. Bianchi has received several major lifetime achievement awards. The Colonel Harland D. Sanders Lifetime Achievement Award in Genetics, given in 2017 by the March of Dimes, recognized her pioneering work on maternal and fetal cellular communication, including its significance in disease and diagnostics, and for exploring treatments of fetal disorders. The Maureen Andrew Award for Mentoring, given in 2016 by the Society for Pediatric Research, recognized her commitment to mentoring the next generation of clinician-scientists. The Landmark Award, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, was given in 2015 in recognition of her research and contributions to genetics and newborn care. The 2017 J.E. Wallace Sterling Lifetime Achievement Award recognized Dr. Bianchi's achievements as an alumna of Stanford University School of Medicine. The Pioneer Award was given in 2019 by the International Society for Prenatal Diagnosis to acknowledge her transformative contributions to the practice, science and profession of prenatal diagnosis and therapy. In 2020 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Amsterdam that recognized her contributions to the field of fetal cell microchimerism and noninvasive prenatal testing using DNA sequencing of fetal and placental DNA fragments.

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Alison Cernich, PhD

Deputy Director, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)

Alison Cernich, PhD, became the Deputy Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in September 2019. In this role, she assists the NICHD Director in overseeing the institute's programs supporting research on child development, developmental biology, nutrition, HIV/AIDS, intellectual and developmental disabilities, population dynamics, reproductive biology, contraception, pregnancy, and medical rehabilitation.

Prior to this position, Dr. Cernich was the Director of NICHD's National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR), where she managed a $72 million research portfolio aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of people with disabilities. As NCMRR Director, she led the development and revision of the congressionally mandated NIH Research Plan on Rehabilitation (PDF 443 KB), an effort that included coordination with 17 institutes and centers and multiple external stakeholders. She also served on multiple interagency strategic planning committees and government oversight committees for research initiatives in the federal government relevant to disability and rehabilitation research.

Dr. Cernich was instrumental in planning and development of NICHD's 2019 Strategic Plan, its first in more than a decade. She also represents NICHD on several trans-NIH programs, including All of Us and the NIH HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM) Initiative.

Before joining NICHD, Dr. Cernich served as Deputy Director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), where she coordinated prevention, education, research, and clinical care efforts for service members and veterans diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Prior to her 10 years with the VA, Dr. Cernich was the TBI Liaison to the Department of Defense, the chief of neuropsychology and Director of the Polytrauma Support Clinic at the VA Maryland Health Care System, and a funded investigator through the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Service.

Dr. Cernich received her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University and completed postdoctoral training in cognitive neuroscience at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C. She is a board-certified neuropsychologist by training and is the lead or contributing author on multiple peer-reviewed articles and conference presentations, with an emphasis on TBI and computerized neuropsychological assessment.