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UTHSC's $33.7 million grant will bring National Children's Study to San Antonio
October 4, 2007

By Don Finley Express-News Medical Writer

One thousand San Antonio children would be followed from the womb — and in some cases, from conception — to their 21st birthday as part of the biggest and most ambitious study ever to look at children’s health and well being, federal health officials announced Thursday. The National Children’s Study is designed to track 100,000 American children to adulthood to answer dozens of questions about what social and environmental factors — from diet to pesticide exposures to television viewing — combine with genetic risk to contribute to a host of diseases, including autism, asthma, obesity, diabetes and mental illness.

Health officials announced that the University of Texas Health Science Center is one of 22 newly selected centers, joining seven picked in 2005, to recruit and follow families over the course of the study. As planned, the health science center would also recruit 1,000 children in Hidalgo County, and another 1,000 in Travis County in later years.

The $33 million, five-year contract would be the second largest in the health science center’s history. If the entire study is funded to completion, it could cost $3.2 billion nationally.

“Study researchers will examine not only what children are eating and drinking, but what’s in the air they breathe, what’s in the dust in their homes, and their possible exposures to chemicals from materials used to construct or furnish their homes and schools,” said Dr. Duane Alexander, director of National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, one of 40 federal agencies involved in the study.

The study design calls for eventually selecting 100,000 children from 105 U.S. communities. Unusual for medical research, candidate families would be selected more or less randomly from census tracts picked by computer, in order to have a demographically representative sample.

However, complete funding for the study is a big if. The Bush administration’s fiscal year 2008 budget request did not include funding for the study, which was requested by Congress in 2000. The House later added $108 million for 2008 in its budget bill. The Senate has not yet acted on a committee recommendation to follow suit.

“We burn that ($3.2 billion) up in a month in Iraq,” said Dr. Donald Dudley, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the health science center and one of the two local investigators in the study. “I think its OK to spend money on Americans. And that’s what we’re trying to do here is make life better for Americans.”

Dr. Daniel Hale, co-investigator and professor of pediatrics at the health science center, said the researcher’s first job would be trying to inform doctors, hospitals and community leaders about the importance of the study.

“You want to make sure that people in the community at all levels are supportive of the project because it’s going to have to be sustained over the course of many years,” Hale said.

Researchers hope to begin recruiting pregnant women — and women who plan to become pregnant — within 20 months. The first results from the study will likely be related to pregnancy outcomes.

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