January 10, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 7

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    NORC, Medical Center team up for massive child health study

    By Theresa Carson
    Medical Center Communications

    The National Institutes of Health named the University of Chicago Medical Center and the National Opinion Research Center as one of the new 22 study centers involved in the National Children’s Study, a comprehensive, multi-million dollar research project that will chart the growth and progress of 100,000 children yet to be born.

    The National Children’s Study, the largest of its kind, will examine environmental and genetic factors that will have an influence on the health of children. The information collected will help researchers prevent and treat significant health problems, such as autism, birth defects, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

    Earlier this year, Congress appropriated $69 million to expand the number of centers from seven to 29. The medical center, NORC, Northwestern University and University of Illinois-Chicago form the consortium representing Cook County.

    The NIH chose institutions based on demonstration of their ability to “collect and manage biological and environmental specimens; identify community networks for recruiting and retaining eligible mothers and infants; and protect the privacy of participant data.”

    Through a variety of methods—clinic visits, in-home visits and telephone calls—they will collect data from 2,000 children in Cook County.

    The sample will statistically represent children in the United States. NORC will choose and recruit study participants based on demographics, geographic locations and other factors.

    “NORC’s role is central to participant enrollment,” said Daniel Johnson, the University’s lead investigator for the project. “Twenty-five percent of participants will be enrolled before conception, and the other 75 percent will become enrolled during the first trimester of pregnancy.”

    “We’ll look at how environmental and genetic factors impact health outcomes for children,” said Johnson, Associate Professor in Pediatrics and Section Chief of Advanced Pediatric Health Services at Comer Children’s Hospital. “By understanding genetic and environmental factors that lead to health, people will be in a better position to positively impact health outcomes.”

    Johnson compared it to the 1948 Framingham Heart Study, which followed 20,000 people to examine and better understand heart disease. “Of course, now we have a much greater understanding of how to do genetic analysis,” he said.

    Throughout the years, tests will include blood work, sampling of environments, and neurological and developmental assessments. Recruitment will begin soon, and formal enrollment will take place in 2009.

    The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development funds the study. It is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.