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Yale Joins Largest Study Ever on How Genes and Environment Affect Health


New Haven, Conn. — The Yale School of Public Health has received a $15 million grant to take part in a national study that will follow 100,000 children from before birth to age 21 to understand factors that contribute to their health and development.

The study, believed to be the largest of its kind ever undertaken, is a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The goal is to seek information that can be used to prevent and treat some of the nation’s most pressing health problems, including autism, birth defects, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Funding is by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

“The National Children’s Study is poised to identify the early antecedents of a broad array of diseases that affect both children and adults,” said Elias Zerhouni, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Such insights will lead to the means to successfully treat and even prevent conditions that to date have defied our best efforts.”
Michael Bracken
Michael Bracken

Yale Medical School Dean Robert Alpern, M.D., said, “I am delighted that Yale will serve as one of the study centers in this important cohort of children. Receipt of this award is a tribute to the quality of the investigators and to Yale.”

Duane Alexander, M.D., director of the NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said the 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 their homes and schools.”

He said the researchers also would analyze blood and other biological samples from study participants to test for exposure to environmental factors and examine whether those factors might influence their health.

Paul Cleary, dean of the Yale School of Public Health, said, “We are delighted that investigators at the Yale School of Public Health and Yale School of Medicine have been selected for a leadership role in the National Children’s Study. This is the largest study of its kind ever undertaken in the world and will provide information about factors affecting the health of children, including behavior patterns, environmental factors, genes, and how all those interact. The data from this path breaking study will provide unprecedented information about how to protect and promote the health of individuals.”

In this first phase of funding, 22 study centers were selected to oversee 26 locations. Ultimately, there will be three rounds of funding and 105 study locations in urban and rural areas. The centers were chosen for their strong ability to collect data for the study and to build extensive community networks for recruiting eligible women and newborns, as well as a demonstrated capability to protect the privacy of the information collected on participants. The centers include universities, hospitals, and health departments.

The Yale Center for Perinatal, Pediatric and Environmental Epidemiology will conduct the study in collaboration with the Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Pediatrics, under the direction of Michael Bracken, principal investigator and professor of epidemiology and public health, and Kathleen Belanger, research scientist.

The center currently is studying asthma, from pregnancy and early infancy to childhood. These studies evaluate genetic, perinatal, and environmental risk factors that lead to early onset and more severe asthma in children and young adults. Studies are also being conducted on the causes of preeclampsia, which continues to be a leading cause of morbidity in pregnancy; the relationship between emotional health and pregnancy outcome, and the effects of air pollution on asthmatic symptoms and infant development.

“Enrolling families in a study that will follow their children for 20 years is both exciting and challenging,” Belanger said. “The support our Center has traditionally received from community hospitals and community based obstetricians and pediatricians makes this study possible.”


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