NIH to reboot environmental study

October 1, 2015

After the implosion late last year of the 14-year effort for a comprehensive national study of the environmental effects on children, Congress has told the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to try again.

After the implosion late last year of the 14-year effort for a comprehensive national study of the environmental effects on children, Congress has told the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to try again.

In July 2014 the Institute of Medicine told NIH the study, which had already consumed $1.3 billion, had problems with its design, management, oversight, and cost. At the end of the year, after another review by an NIH working group, NIH director Francis Collins closed the study down.

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Mandated in legislation in 2000, the study was to follow 100,000 children from the womb to age 21 to look at many environmental, social, behavioral, and biological factors on health, growth, and development.

Both the House and the Senate appropriations committees have now called for a reworked version of the effort and for $165 million for it in fiscal year 2016, saying the funds may be transferred to accounts of the various institutes and centers to support the goal.

Even with complications like a threatened government shutdown over other aspects of the federal budget, the funding seemed likely to become available.

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The House Appropriations Committee report directed NIH to work with pediatric groups to develop alternative research activities building on the National Children’s Study data and overarching goals.

The working group that reported to the NIH director last fall said the study as previously outlined was not feasible, but that the overall goals should remain a priority. The group said, “There is a lack of an understanding of the impact of early life exposures on development and health, and a large longitudinal cohort design presents an opportunity to link environmental exposures to health outcomes in children. This is a critical need.”

It also said there is no similar study on minority and disadvantaged populations.

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In a request for information in July NIH said that a major focus for its repurposing of the funds already appropriated for 2015 would be development of tools for measurement of environmental exposures, including physical, chemical, biological, and psychosocial.

The NIH said it also intends to use those funds for studying environmental influence on placental and in utero development and to leverage extant programs to expand study on environmental influences on later child development.

For fiscal year 2016, NIH proposes supporting “multiple synergistic, longitudinal studies using extant cohorts that represent variable environmental exposures (eg, physical, chemical, biological, psychosocial, natural, and built environments) that will share standardized research questions…”

The NIH calls the plan ECHO (Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes) saying the main aim, “is to more efficiently and effectively utilize and leverage our current resources to address a hugely important area of research.”

The 4 focus areas will be:

·      Upper and lower airway (eg, asthma, allergies, sleep disordered breathing)

·      Obesity (eg, nutrition, diabetes, metabolic risk factors)

·      Pre-, peri-, and postnatal outcomes (eg, birth defects, childhood outcomes)

·      Neurodevelopment (eg, autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression, social/behavioral development, cognition).

Among other things, NIH has said that it wants to ensure, “Recruitment plans are robust enough to address racial and ethnic minority issues.”

Further information is available by searching on, “Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes Webinar,” or searching the NIH grants and funding guide, including the “notices,” for “National Children’s Study.”