Waisman Center to participate in long-term study of children’s health

Pat Mitchell, Waisman Center

The Waisman Center, along with a number of UW departments and schools, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and a consortium of community organizations, will participate in the National Children’s Study, a decades-long study of the health and well-being of children.The study will involve 100,000 children across the United States from before birth to age 21 and will investigate the links between Children’s environments and their health. It is envisioned as the first, major long-term investigation of the health of American children since the 1960s.

Five other institutions were named as initial Study Centers or Vanguard Centers in an announcement by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) on September 29. The five-year award for the Wisconsin effort is for $16.2 million.

The project is a natural fit for the Waisman Center, which focuses on human development, developmental disabilities, and neurodegenerative diseases, according to director Marsha Mailick Seltzer, PhD. It is a great privilege for the Waisman Center to be involved in this national ground-breaking effort to study environmental and risk factors affecting child development, prenatally through young adulthood.

The new study will examine important health issues, including birth defects and pregnancy-related problems, injuries, asthma, obesity and diabetes, and behavior, learning, and mental health disorders. By establishing links between children’s environments and their health and charting their development through infancy, childhood, and early adulthood, the goal is to determine the root causes of many childhood and adult diseases.

Maureen S. Durkin, PhD
Maureen S. Durkin, PhD

The UW Waisman Center and the Medical College of Wisconsin are the lead partners for the Study Center in Wisconsin, which will be implemented in Waukesha County. Co-principal investigators are Maureen Durkin, PhD, DrPH, associate professor of population health sciences, UW Medical School, and Chris Cronk, ScD, associate professor of pediatrics, Medical College of Wisconsin.

The Waukesha Study Center is an unprecedented collaboration between Wisconsin institutions, according to Durkin. The only way to mount a study of this magnitude and complexity is to involve the expertise and resources of a broad coalition of community and academic partners, she says.

At UW-Madison, partners will include the Applied Population Laboratory, Comprehensive Cancer Center, Department of Pediatrics, Department of Psychology, School of Education, School of Nursing, School of Pharmacy, UW Survey Center, and the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research.

Other collaborators in the Waukesha Study Center include the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services, the National Opinion Research Center, Marquette University, UW-Milwaukee Center for Urban Initiatives Research, UW Marine and Freshwater Biomedical Sciences Center/Institute for Environmental Health, and the Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin.

In addition, the Waukesha County Health and Human Services, ProHealth Care, Covenant Health Care, Community Memorial Hospital, Waukesha Family Practice Center, Casa de Esperanza, and medical practices serving Waukesha County residents will be integrally involved in study activities. Other community agencies and medical and health practices will be engaged in the study as it moves forward.

The Study Centers were identified through a rigorous national probability selection method designed to ensure that children across the nation are fairly represented. The selected centers demonstrated advanced clinical research and data collection capabilities, with the ability to collect and manage biological and environmental specimens; with community networks for identifying, recruiting, and retaining eligible families; and a commitment to the protection and privacy of data.

The five other institutions and corresponding sites for the initial Study Centers are: University of California, Irvine (Orange County); University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Duplin County); Mount Sinai School of Medicine (Queens County); Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (Montgomery County); and University of Utah (Salt Lake County). Eventually, 105 sites will be identified.

Planning for the National Children’s Study begins on October 1, 2005, and will continue to June 30, 2007. Findings from the study will be made available as the research progresses.