$95 mil­lion for chil­dren’s health

Hop­kins school of pub­lic health gets grant to study en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Mered­ith Cohn mered­ith.cohn@balt­sun.com

The Johns Hop­kins Bloomberg School of Pub­lic Health will re­ceive $95 mil­lion in fed­eral fund­ing over seven years to an­a­lyze data col­lected from 50,000 chil­dren across the coun­try and an­swer ques­tions about en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors that in­flu­ence their health from con­cep­tion through early child­hood.

The grant from the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health was an­nounced Wed­nes­day.

The chil­dren have al­ready been en­rolled in one study or an­other across the coun­try, and the NIH rec­og­nized an op­por­tu­nity to use ex­ist­ing sys­tems to pool in­for­ma­tion for wider and bet­ter anal­y­sis, said Lisa Ja­cob­son, a pro­fes­sor of epi­demi­ol­ogy at the Bloomberg School who will lead the Hop­kins data cen­ter.

Re­searchers at Hop­kins hope to be­gin pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion within a year on why some chil­dren are born with or de­velop obe­sity, asthma and al­ler­gies, autism, birth de­fects and other prob­lems.

“The po­ten­tial is enor­mous,” Ja­cob­son said of the new NIH pro­gram, called En­vi­ron­men­tal In­flu­ences on Child Health Out­comes, or ECHO. “We will help iden­tify what are the crit­i­cal el­e­ments that in­flu­ence chil­dren’s health out­comes.”

En­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors, such as air pol­lu­tion and chem­i­cals, stress, sleep and diet could have an ef­fect on health, Ja­cob­son said. These fac­tors will be eval­u­ated along with other in­flu­ences, such as the chil­dren’s ge­netic makeup.

The mas­sive pool of data will be an­a­lyzed look­ing for chil­dren ex­posed to com­mon en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors with sim­i­lar out­comes. Once the data be­gin pro­vid­ing an­swers to ques­tions about health, Ja­cob­son said, sci­en­tists can de­velop ways of pre­vent­ing prob­lems from de­vel­op­ing or, at least, a means of mon­i­tor­ing for dis­ease and early in­ter­ven­tion.

She said the new pro­gram of­fers a much larger num­ber of par­tic­i­pants than many past stud­ies. The find­ings will be both shared pub­licly and pub­lished in sci­en­tific jour­nals, pos­si­bly be­gin­ning in a year’s time.

The Hop­kins re­searchers will share the NIH grant with the re­search firm RTI In­ter­na­tional, which will han­dle data man­age­ment.

Hop­kins and RTI will re­ceive $5 mil­lion in the first year, which is part of $157 mil­lion in fund­ing for the pro­gram in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the NIH.

Duke Univer­sity re­searchers will co­or­di­nate the groups of chil­dren and de­ter­mine how to uni­formly col­lect data. Dozens of hos­pi­tals and other re­search sites will en­roll chil­dren in the new pro­gram.

“Ev­ery baby should have the best op­por­tu­nity to re­main healthy and thrive through­out child­hood,” Dr. Fran­cis S. Collins, the NIH di­rec­tor, said in a state­ment. “ECHO will help us bet­ter un­der­stand the fac­tors that con­trib­ute to op­ti­mal health in chil­dren.”

The grant comes on the heels of a $300 mil­lion gift from busi­ness­man and for­mer New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the school of pub­lic health for cre­ation of the Bloomberg Amer­i­can Health Ini­tia­tive. It will fo­cus on re­search ar­eas in­clud­ing ad­dic­tion and over­dose, risks to ado­les­cent health, en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges, obe­sity and vi­o­lence.

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