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Katherine Hartmann, M.D., Ph.D., left, and Bettina Beech, DrPH, M.P.H., are Vanderbiltís leaders of the NIH study into the causes of childhood diseases. (photo by Joe Howell)

Vanderbilt joins national childhood diseases initiative

BY: CAROLE BARTOO

10/10/2008 - Vanderbilt Medical Center has been awarded $12 million in funding over the next five years to provide leadership in an unprecedented search for the causes of childhood illness.

The award is a part of the National Institutes of Health's National Children's Study, a comprehensive look into the interaction of genes and the environment and the impact of that interaction on children's health.

The study will follow 100,000 children from before birth to age 21.

“This study will allow researchers and health care providers to better understand the influence of multiple factors on the health and development of children,” said, Bettina Beech, DrPH, M.P.H., associate professor of General Internal Medicine and Public Health and Vanderbilt's principal investigator.

“We hope in the course of this long-term study we will find some answers to diverse questions like what causes autism and which factors impact infant mortality in Middle Tennessee,”

Co-principal investigator for the local site of the study, Katherine Hartmann, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said she and Beech led the application for the contract because they knew they could align a network of strong partners who were ideally suited to this research and dedicated to the women and children in Davidson County.

“We recognize firsthand how a child's health can be influenced, even from before birth. It is only in a study the size and scope of this one that we can truly put innovative theories about the causes of disease to the test,” Hartmann said.

Beech and Hartmann lead the Davidson County Partnership, one of 36 study centers in the nation that will pull data from 72 locations across the United States. The Davidson County Partnership will recruit patients from Vanderbilt University Hospital, the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, RTI International, Meharry Medical College, Baptist Hospital, Centennial Hospital, Southern Hills Hospital, Summit Hospital and Nashville General Hospital.

“Davidson County residents can be assured that findings from the National Children's Study will be released on a rolling basis rather than at the end of the studies in 2025,” Beech said.

When it is fully operational, the study is expected to include between 36 to 50 study centers in the planned 105 study locations across the United States.

Study volunteers will be recruited from rural, urban and suburban areas, from all income and educational levels, and from all racial groups.

The study will investigate factors influencing the development of such conditions as autism, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, birth defects, diabetes, asthma and obesity.

Authorized by Congress in the Children's Health Act of 2000, the National Children's Study is being conducted by a consortium of federal agencies, including two NIH institutes, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Additional information about the National Children's Study is available from http://www.nationalchildrensstudy.gov.

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