Kids and Their
a Landmark Study
words by susan preston / photograph by brad guice
aternal and child health have been a major research focus of physician- epidemiologist George Rhoads, MD, MPH, through much of his career. So his newest project — heading up a section of the largest-ever national long-term study of children’s health and development — is an opportunity of a lifetime. Called the National Children’s Study and sponsored by the NIH, this landmark project will follow 100,000 children from before birth to age 21 to track the effects of genetic and environmental influences.
“We hope to better understand factors that might lead to diseases or conditions such as autism, asthma, birth defects, obesity and diabetes, and behavioral, learning and mental health problems,” says Rhoads, a nationally recognized expert on the health effects of sustained lead exposure in children. “We anticipate that this study will yield much critical information.”
Thirty-six study centers, located in both urban and rural areas, are participating. Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York is leading the study center of which Rhoads and his team are members. In addition to the UMDNJ-School of Public Health, where Rhoads is associate dean and acting chair of the Department of Epidemiology, the group includes the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, a joint program of UMDNJ and Rutgers, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the University of Rochester School of Medicine.
In NJ, Rhoads’ team will focus on Passaic County, which already has been funded, and Middlesex and Warren counties, both of which are expected to be funded within two years, where “pregnant women from a representative sample of neighborhoods will be recruited,” he explains.
Air, dust, soil, water and food samples will be collected from each participant’s home in the first trimester of pregnancy. At the end of that period, blood, urine, hair and nail clippings will be collected, and each volunteer will be interviewed about diet, lifestyle, possible environmental exposure and medical history.
Samples of cord blood and tissue from the umbilical cord and placenta will be collected at the time of delivery, as well as medical records of the mother and infant. The samples will be processed and shipped to a central repository.
Post delivery, phone contacts are scheduled at 3 and 9 months, home visits at 6 and 12 months. Children will then be followed by phone at 6 month intervals until 36 months, when an assessment of the child’s health and development will be done. Additional follow-up is still being developed.
Researchers are paying special attention to: persistent organic compounds (i.e. PCBs); non-persistent volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds ( i.e. formaldehyde and benzene); pesticides; tobacco smoke; metals; illicit drugs; allergens; neighborhood, housing, child care and school characteristics; demographic and cultural variables; lifestyle issues; psychosocial stress and support.
The team will begin analyzing information as soon as it is collected. When the children in the study reach certain milestones, researchers will release findings on these milestones. “This may raise more questions, which we will then explore as the study continues,” Rhoads explains.