Thursday's announcement of the new study centers for The National Children’s Study builds on the establishment of the first seven centers in 2005.
The National Children's Study will focus on a representative sample of 100,000 children from before birth to age 21. Researchers will gather data on children's genetic makeup and a number of biological, chemical, environmental, physical and psychosocial factors.
The study seeks information to prevent and treat some of the nation's most pressing health problems, including autism, birth defects, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
The study defines the term environment broadly, including natural and manufactured environment factors, biological and chemical factors, physical surroundings, social factors, behavioral influences and outcomes, genetics, cultural and family influences and differences, and geographic locations.
Researchers will collect environmental samples from the air and water where children spend more than 30 hours a week to learn about potential exposures. They will analyze blood, urine, hair and fingernail samples from children. In addition, children will be screened for asthma, birth defects, diabetes, injury susceptibility, obesity and physical and mental development disorders. The outcomes of pregnancies, such as preterm delivery, also will be evaluated.
From that information, scientists can look at how certain factors alone or in combination affect pregnancy outcomes, child development and health and an adult's likelihood of developing certain diseases.
'The National Children's Study is an important step in setting the foundation for understanding the environmental and genetic determinants of pediatric and adult diseases,' says Michael DeBaun, MD, MPH, co-principal investigator and associate professor of pediatrics and biostatistics at Washington University in St. Louis, one of the study centers selected.
'We now have a unique opportunity coupled with a high level of responsibility to fulfill the mission of this important award for the next generation,' he said.
The cost of the research is estimated at $3 billion over the next 25 years. Congress appropriated $69 million in fiscal year 2007 for the National Children's Study.
Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development says the National Children's study is the largest and longest research study ever to look at the ways in which environment and genetics interact to influence child health and human development.
The study will eventually be conducted in a total of 105 study locations across the United States, pending additional funding. The first study locations will begin enrolling pregnant women within the next nine to 10 months and scientific information is expected to be available as early as 2011 and 2012, says study director Dr. Peter Scheidt.
The study begins either prior to conception or in the first trimester of pregnancy.
'There are a lot of things that happen prior to birth that set the thermostat on how vulnerable you are to risk factors for diseases,' says Louise Flick, DrPH, co-principal investigator and professor of nursing from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Nursing. 'We are studying children to age 21 because some of the exposures we suspect are important have consequences that take a lot time to develop.'
'The National Children's Study is an investment in the future,' says Terry Leet, Ph.D., lead investigator of the study sites in St. Louis and rural Macoupin County and chairman of the department of community health at Saint Louis University School of Public Health.
'Examining the kinds of questions that influence the health and well-being of children is critically important to the entire community, whether you are a parent, grandparent or researcher,' said Leet. 'What we find could be a potential gold mine of data for scientists who are studying what causes diseases in children.'
As the lead institution, Saint Louis University School of Public Health has received a $26 million, five-year contract from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and a consortium of federal agencies including the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.