Study of U.S. child health takes big step forward

CHICAGO Thu Oct 4, 2007 3:00pm EDT

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - The largest-ever U.S. children's health study, which hopes to find cures to some of the nation's most pressing and puzzling health problems, has added 22 new study centers, officials announced on Thursday.

The new centers join seven existing centers in the planned National Children's Study, which will focus in large part on diseases that are increasingly prevalent in the United States, such as autism and asthma, Dr. Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, told reporters in a telephone briefing.

"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," Alexander said.

"It will look at how behavioral and social factors also interact with genetics and the physical environment," he said.

The 25-year study aims to recruit 100,000 children from before birth to age 21.

The $3.2 billion project began in response to the Children's Health Act of 2000, when Congress directed the federal agencies to undertake a national, long-term study of children's health and development in relation to environmental exposures.

The new centers, most located at major research universities across the country, were funded by $69 million from Congress in fiscal year 2007 and will now start hiring and training staff.

The initial seven centers will start enrolling pregnant women within the next nine to 10 months.

"We can anticipate beginning to learn important scientific information from this study as early as 2011 and 2012," study director Dr. Peter Scheidt said.

He said a total of 35 to 45 centers in 105 locations are expected. Future announcements will depend on continued funding by Congress.

"The National Children's Study will generate a much-needed detailed health portrait of our nation," Dr. Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes, said in a statement.

The study is a collaborative effort between the U.S. 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 NIH, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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