The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has awarded Brown University a $14.1 million contract to join the National Children’s Study, a landmark research project aimed at improving children’s health. Brown will partner with Women &amp; Infants Hospital of Rhode Island and others to enroll 1,000 Providence County children in the study and follow them from before birth until age 21 to examine the effects of environmental influences on their health and well-being. (See also <a href="#Statements">statements of support</a> from the Congressional delegation.)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University, with lead partner Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, has been awarded a five-year, $14.1-million contract to join the National Children’s Study, a groundbreaking research project aimed at improving child health.

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a part of the National Institutes of Health, announced the award today. Brown is one of 22 new study centers that will take part in the National Children’s Study, the largest long-term study of children’s health and development ever conducted in the United States.

The National Children’s Study centers will enroll a representative sample of 100,000 infants and follow them from before birth to age 21. Modeled after major long-term biomedical research projects such as the Women’s Health Initiative, the National Children’s Study takes advantage of observations unfolding over many years to better understand the development of certain diseases.

The contract is one of Brown’s largest National Institutes of Health research awards in a decade. It is the result of a unique collaboration that involves not only Brown and Women & Infants researchers, but also a broad range of state and community partners, which to date includes the Rhode Island Department of Health, the City of Providence, the City of Pawtucket, Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island, and Landmark Medical Center.

In Rhode Island, investigators will interview a random sample of more than 10,000 households and enroll 1,000 children in Providence County. Researchers hope to identify the root causes of diseases such as asthma, autism and diabetes, as well to gain a better understanding of injuries, birth defects, and learning, behavioral and mental health disorders.

Findings will provide the basis for new prevention strategies, health and safety guidelines, and potential treatments and cures for disease.

“I could not be more proud of Brown’s selection as a site for the National Children’s Study,” said Eli Y. Adashi, M.D., dean of medicine and biological sciences. “The study bears all the hallmarks of Brown biomedical research – cross-disciplinary, translational, cutting-edge and policy-relevant. This significant award is a testament to the strength of Brown’s Program in Public Health, which couples a rigorous research program with a public service mission. Rhode Island will benefit from this landmark project for generations to come.”

Brown has committed $1 million to the project and Women & Infants has committed $500,000. This additional funding will enhance scientific and community participation in the study.

“Many studies have examined the causes of disease and the contributors to quality of life, but none has the magnificent potential to improve the overall status of children as the National Children’s Study,” said Constance A. Howes, president and chief executive officer of Women & Infants. “It is Women & Infants’ privilege to participate in such ground-breaking work.”

“I congratulate Brown University and Women & Infants on this remarkable achievement,” Gov. Donald L. Carcieri said. “This announcement is an example of the success we can expect when Rhode Island’s world-class health care and educational leaders work together. The development of this new research study center is a valuable addition to Rhode Island's economy, as well as a significant step in improving the health of our nation’s children.”

Stephen L. Buka, a professor in the Department of Community Health at Brown and the director of the Center for Population Health and Clinical Epidemiology, is principal investigator of the National Children’s Study center in Providence. Buka’s work focuses on the causes and prevention of major psychiatric and cognitive disorders of children, youth and adults. Buka has extensive experience in long-term research studies, including serving as director of the New England Family Study, a 45-year, three-generation study of 17,000 infants aimed at identifying the risk factors for, and the developmental origins of, neuropsychiatric and other medical disorders including schizophrenia, substance use and cardiovascular disease.

Maureen G. Phipps, M.D., director of the Brown University/Women & Infants Hospital National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, is co-principal investigator on the project. Phipps is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and community health at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, whose research interests include adolescent pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, postpartum depression, prenatal care, contraception and disparities in women’s health. Phipps serves on several state and national committees on women’s health, including serving as chair of the Rhode Island Task Force on Preterm Births.

Buka and Phipps will oversee collection and analysis of the study data, with Rhode Island recruitment beginning in 2009.

A research team will visit families beginning from the first trimester of pregnancy or earlier. Some of these visits will be in participants’ homes and some will be in clinical settings. Data will also be collected via telephone, computer, or mail-in questionnaires. Biological samples from the mother, father and child, as well as air, water, soil, and dust from the child’s environment will be collected.

Additional information – from a family health history to details of a child’s diet to their access to parks – will also be gathered to determine the relationship between biological, chemical, physical and psychosocial exposures and pregnancy and birth outcomes, child development, and medical conditions. Preliminary findings from the Rhode Island cohort of the study will become available by 2012.

Along with a several active research partners, the National Children’s Study has a broad base of supporters in Rhode Island.

Providence Community Health Centers, Neighborhood Health Plan of RI, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island, and United Healthcare endorse the project, as do all four members of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation: U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy and U.S. Rep. James Langevin.

For more information on the National Children’s Study:



Statements from the Rhode Island Congressional Delegation

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.)
“I commend Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island for their partnership in this program,” said Sen. Jack Reed, a member of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees federal spending for the National Children’s Study. Reed successfully opposed the Bush administration’s repeated attempts to cut off funding for this initiative. “This federal funding will help researchers track local children from the cradle through adulthood to gain a better understanding of how environmental influences impact their health and development. The data gathered by researchers at Brown and Women & Infants Hospital could go a long way toward improving the medical community's understanding of common childhood health issues such as asthma and autism.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)
“From elevated mercury levels in our seafood, to lead poisoning in our homes, to childhood asthma from smokestack emissions several states away, Rhode Islanders have seen the real impact environmental factors can have on children’s development and quality of life,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said. “I’m proud that two world-class Rhode Island institutions – Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital – will have the opportunity to take part in this critical effort to learn more about how we can keep children healthy.”

Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.)
“The National Children’s Study is a major undertaking aimed at improving the lives of children for future generations,” said Rep. Patrick Kennedy. “As members of this landmark study, Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital will be among the most influential leaders shaping the direction of policy for children’s health care. I am grateful to the Rhode Island children who will be taking part in this program in an effort to improve the lives of others.”

Rep. Representative Jim Langevin (D-R.I.)
“This is wonderful news for Women & Infants and Brown University as well as the state of Rhode Island,” said Rep. Jim Langevin. “The more we learn about how our children grow and develop, the better equipped our health care system can be to keep them healthy and happy in their formative years and beyond. I commend all those who helped secure this contract and look forward to tracking the progress of this study.”