Child study expands with three new centers

By Lana Groves, Asst. News Editor

Researchers at the U are participating in a study that will follow thousands of children’s development from embryo to adulthood in order to help prevent childhood diseases.

The U heads one of seven Vanguard Centers hosting the 25-year study for 105 locations nationwide, and recently added three new locations to expand the research to Wyoming and Idaho.

Pam Silberman, community relations director for the study, said staff members have been preparing to start the study in several neighborhoods in Salt Lake and Cache counties and are leaving for Idaho today to announce the expansion to the community there.

“We will open local offices there for staff and rent space in local hospitals there,” Silberman said. “We’ll be hiring most of our staff locally.”

The center received $16 million from the National Institutes of Health to open the new locations, but staff members in Wyoming and Idaho will not start collecting data until 2011. In the meantime, they will make lists of neighborhoods in the three counties they could interview.

Silberman said staff members will begin knocking on doors in Salt Lake County in the spring to find women of child-bearing age willing to participate in the study.

She said they will look at anything that could affect a child, including the physical and social environment, psychological factors, media exposure, food intake and prenatal factors.

Pediatrics department chairman Edward Clark, who is also a principal investigator for the study, said in a press release that the three centers will broaden the study by adding rural and agricultural environments into play.

Project director Sean Firth has been working on the study since the U was awarded the initial $290,000 to open the Vanguard Center.

“It’s important…to identify the source of a potential exposure,” said Firth, a co-principal investigator and assistant professor of pediatrics. “Most studies look at the blood and find the exposure, but our goal is to find where the exposure is happening.”

Firth said hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on children’s diseases and mental disorders every year.

If the statistics could affect even 10 percent of the number of children with diseases, they would be able to save 35 times the cost of the study, Firth said. Silberman said the U’s portion of the study should cost about $150 million, which includes five locations so far.

Study participants will be paid for their time in conducting interviews, observation and sample collection.

“A lot of the visits will be taken place in the home,” Firth said. “One person primarily doing interviewing and bio specimen col lection, and another doing sampling collection, including air sampling and gathering additional samples from soil, water and dust from a number of samples.”

Staff will also take samples from environments in which the mother and child spend more than 30 hours a week.

Firth said staff members will also observe parent-child interaction time in the home. He said the reports might be biased because other people are in the room at the time but that questionnaires and other data should help validate results.

Firth said the study will be helpful no matter what bias might occur.

“This study has the statistical power to be able to answer some very key important questions about causal factors of certain children’s health disorders,” he said. “It would (usually) take multiple studies to determine a clear cut association.”

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