October 21, 2010

Study to track child health from birth to age 21

Study to track child health from birth to age 21

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is set to begin recruiting mothers and their unborn babies for the largest long-term study of child health in United States history.

Local enrollment of pregnant and soon-to-be pregnant women will start in November for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development National Children's Study, an in depth look at how environment, behavior and genetics impact children's health, development and growth.

Vanderbilt plans to recruit 1,000 women over the next four years. Overall, the national study will track 100,000 children from before birth to age 21.

Katherine Hartmann, M.D., Ph.D.

Katherine Hartmann, M.D., Ph.D.

“We want to know what it is about where you live, work and play, combined with your genetics and behaviors, that affects health and development,” said Katherine Hartmann, M.D., Ph.D., deputy director of the Institute for Medicine and Public Health and principal investigator for the study. “One hundred thousand of anything collected uniformly is very powerful data.”

The study will be able to look for contributing causes of a myriad of childhood diseases, including autism, asthma, diabetes, obesity, birth defects and mental health disorders.

Researchers hope that the information gained from the study could someday be used to develop new treatments, health screenings and safety policies to protect future generations. They plan to release vital findings to the public as information becomes available.

Recruiters will target random areas around Davidson County to get a cross-section of the population. They also hope to enroll women from all socioeconomic and educational levels and racial and ethnic groups.

“The children in this study will get close and careful development evaluations,” said Hartmann. “For children who maybe don't have a reliable source of primary care, this will be confirmation that development is right on track or an issue may be captured early.”

The national study was authorized under the Children's Health Act of 2000, in which Congress mandated that a consortium of federal groups plan and implement the research endeavor.

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are leading the study, working in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency, among other federal agencies.

The NIH awarded Vanderbilt a $12 million contract in 2008 to be one of 105 study centers across the nation.

Only about 30 locations, including Vanderbilt, are currently active as pilot sites until planners discern the most effective ways to carry out the comprehensive and unprecedented task.

The Davidson Partners for Children's Health, a collaborative team of scientists and administrative leaders from Davidson County, will facilitate the research under the Vanderbilt contract.

It includes full participation by each of six area birth facilities and their leadership, the Tennessee and Metro Departments of Health and the Governor's Office of Children's Care Coordination.

The group recently started rolling out a public service announcement campaign to tell women how they can “participate in our future,” said J. Nikki McKoy, M.P.H., study center coordinator for the project.

“It will help their grandchildren,” said McKoy, who is also an assistant in Medicine for Vanderbilt's Institute for Medicine and Public Health. “This is your chance to have long-reaching influence on future generations.”

The Davidson Partners will launch a hotline, at (866) 346-2684, in early to mid-November, for women who are interested in participating. They will also recruit through providers and hospitals.

“We are asking people to be stewards of their time to give us their help as partners over 21 years of follow-up,” Hartmann said. “With their help, we hope to look at how behavior and health come together.”