Landmark Research Into Child And Maternal Health Expanded

A landmark research study into childrens’ health, the National Childrens’ Study, will now add the St Louis area. Researchers will monitor children from Jefferson County in Missouri and Johnson, Union and Williamson counties in southern Illinois from before birth to age 21 to learn more about environmental and genetic influences on diseases.

Saint Louis University School of Public Health was awarded a $26.3 million contract from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Families in Jefferson County and southern Illinois will have an opportunity to be on the forefront of landmark research into child and maternal health,” says Terry Leet, Ph.D., lead investigator of the Jefferson, Johnson, Union and Williamson counties study sites and chairman of the department of community health at Saint Louis University School of Public Health. “Ultimately, what we find will benefit all Americans because we will gain information to help develop strategies to prevent disease, design health and safety guidelines and possibly find new treatments and cures for diseases.”

Saint Louis University School of Public Health was awarded a $26.8 million contract last year to monitor the health of children from St. Louis City and Macoupin County in Illinois, and the research team will enroll participants from those areas in 2010.

Dr. Leet, who was recently appointed to serve on the executive steering committee of the National Children’s Study, is lead investigator of both sets of study sites. This appointment acknowledges his national expertise in maternal and child health.

The four Missouri and Illinois sites form the region’s Gateway Study Center. Partnering institutions are Saint Louis University School of Medicine; Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Nursing; Southern Illinois University School of Medicine; Washington University School of Medicine; Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development; and Battelle Memorial Institute.

Factors affecting a child’s health before it is born will be followed, and information about diet and exposure to chemicals and other substances in the environment and emotional stress.will be obtained from pregnant women or women likely to become pregnant.

“Recruiting mothers before conception, or in very early pregnancy, means we can measure environmental influences when the fetus is first forming. We have limited knowledge currently but we know that early exposures can have lifelong effects on metabolism and risk of chronic disease in adulthood,” said Louise Flick, DrPH, co-principal investigator and professor of nursing from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Nursing.

Once the child is born, researchers will collect air, water and environmental samples from where children spend most of their time. They will analyze fingernail, hair, blood and urine samples and screen for birth defects, injury susceptibility, physical and mental disorders, asthma, diabetes and obesity, among other conditions.

“Our research will give scientists access to a vault of information that could ensure a healthier future for generations to come,” Leet says. “What we find could have huge implications for the health of our children and their children’s children.” “Large population-based studies are best suited by institutions with overlapping, yet distinct skills,” said Allison King, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and of occupational therapy at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and co-principal investigator of the study. “We are lucky enough to have several strong institutions in the area that complement each other.”

The National Children’s Study will be conducted in 105 locations across the country. During the last two years, Congress has appropriated a total of $179.9 million to support the project.

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