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UCLA to lead local study center in landmark government study of child health

The UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities has been selected as one of 22 new study centers for the National Childrens Study, a nationwide project designed to assess the effects of environmental and genetic factors on childrens health in the United States. The study center will manage local participant recruitment and data collection for the largest study of child health ever conducted in the United States.

The National Childrens Study is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services (including the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

This study is big science and it will be one of the most important generators of new knowledge on child and adult health and development ever attempted, said principal investigator Dr. Neal Halfon, professor of pediatrics, public health and public policy at UCLA and director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities. It will help children across the U.S. and shape child health guidance, interventions and policy for generations to come.

The National Childrens Study will eventually follow a representative sample of 100,000 children from before birth to age 21, seeking information that will help prevent and treat some of the nations most pressing health problems, including autism, birth defects, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. To better understand the impact of exposures on the developing fetus, infant and child, the study will recruit pregnant women, as well as women who are likely to become pregnant, in order assess environmental health influence during the pre-pregnancy and prenatal period.

The UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities is an internationlly distiguished leader in child health research and policy. The grant will be housed within the division of child health policy and community pediatrics at Mattel Childrens Hospital UCLA. The UCLA-based team of scientific investigators will be joined by collaborating investigators from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the University of Southern California, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, First 5 Los Angeles County, the Ventura County Public Health Department, First 5 Ventura County, the Research Triangle Institute and the Rand Corp.

The NIH has approved $47.9 million to launch the study and enroll 5,000 children in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, in waves of 1,000. The first installment of funding, $14.7 million, will cover the establishment of the study center, a 22-month planning phase and a 38-month enrollment of the first 1,000 children. Actual data collection for this first wave is scheduled to begin in the late summer of 2009.

The National Childrens Study is on a par with other major scientific projects like the Human Genome Project and the Womens Health Study, and the NIH estimates that the studys price tag the over the next 30 years will reach the $3 billion mark. At this point, Congress has yet to authorize the full amount needed for the study and has chosen to provide incremental funding.

While $3 billion is a lot of money, over this 30-year period it will represent less than 1 percent of the NIH annual research budget, said Dr. Michael Lu, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and public health at UCLA and a lead investigator for the study.

Supporters of the study further argue that six of the health conditions the study will target asthma, obesity, schizophrenia, autism, learning disabilities and injuries currently cost the nation more than $600 billion dollars a year. If knowledge resulting from the study was to reduce expenditures for these conditions by 1 percent, the study would pay for itself many times over.

The University of California is well-represented in the study and will contribute much-needed expertise. In addition to UCLA, other new study centers were awarded to UC Irvine (for San Diego and San Bernardino counties, to go along with the existing Vanguard Center for Orange County) and UC Davis (for Sacramento and San Mateo counties). With the collaboration between the lead UC centers and additional sites, it is projected that more than 10,000 Californians will be enrolled in the study.

When fully funded, the study will be conducted in 105 study locations across the United States. A national probability sample was used to select the counties in the study, which will be representative of the U.S. population as a whole.

The National Childrens Study began in response to the Childrens Health Act of 2000, when Congress directed the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and other federal agencies to undertake a long-term national study of childrens health and development in relation to environmental exposures. A group of more than 2,000 scientists from across the U.S. have been designing and planning the study for the past six years.

Todays announcement of the new study centers follows earlier study milestones, including the 2004 announcement of the 105 study locations and the establishment of the seven Vanguard centers in 2005.

We urge the public to watch out for future announcements about the National Childrens Study and opportunities to enroll children from Los Angles County starting in 2009 and Ventura County at a later date, said co-principal investigator, Dr. Calvin Hobel, who is vice chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and holds the Miriam Jacobs Chair in Maternal-Fetal Medicine. This is a historic and once-in-a lifetime opportunity that will advance our understanding of the causes and prevention of some of the common and rare disorders of childhood.


Contact: Amy Albin
University of California - Los Angeles

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