October 06, 2008

SIUC plays big role in major health study

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- One thousand Southern Illinois children and their families will benefit from enhanced health care and knowledge thanks to the expansion of a landmark national children's research project into Southern Illinois.

The data collected through the National Children’s Study, involving 100,000 children across the country, will in turn benefit society for many years to come. Moreover, the massive study will also have a far-reaching economic impact on the region.

The Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development (CRHSSD) at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is collaborating with Saint Louis University School of Public Health, the principal investigator for the study site, and Battelle Memorial Institute on a new $13 million contract from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Also partnering in the project are the SIU School of Medicine, the SIU Edwardsville School of Nursing, Saint Louis University School of Medicine and Washington University School of Medicine. For it’s role in the study, CRHSSD will receive $3.12 million.

Following last week’s announcement of the expansion of the National Children’s Study into Johnson, Union and Williamson counties in Southern Illinois a news conference today (Oct. 6) at SIUC highlighted just how important this project will be to participating families and the region.

The National Children’s Study (NCS) is the largest study ever conducted on the health and development of children. Enrollment begins at or even before conception and participation continues until the children reach age 21. Researchers will collect information about the various elements affecting the children’s lives, including genetics, physical environment and social environment.

“This study will be one of the most important contributions to human health in history,” said

James Teufel, lead location investigator, co-investigator for community engagement and principal investigator for the SIUC subcontract. Teufel is also the director of research and evaluation for CRHSSD.

“It will give us a better understanding of positive and negative influences on human health and development,” Teufel added. “The people of Southern Illinois will have the opportunity to contribute to this historic study.”

Included will be screenings before and after birth for congenital disorders, physical and mental functioning, diabetes, obesity, asthma and various other conditions, including injury susceptibility. That means a wide assortment of costly medical tests and screenings will be free for participating pregnant mothers and their babies. For instance, NCS will cover the costs of additional ultrasounds, which allow for better prenatal monitoring, improving health care outcomes and better preparing families for the future, Teufel said.

The role of the CRHSSD, with its $3.12 million subcontract, is informing the public and engaging community and hospital involvement in the project. CRHSSD will recruit people from the participating counties to serve on advisory board subcommittees. In addition, CRHSSD staff will conduct birth visits with participants.

Dr. Kyaw Naing, associate professor of family and community medicine in Carbondale, will promote the NCS with the region’s family medicine practitioners who deliver babies to recruit participants for the study. Dr. Ricardo Loret de Mola, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, will do likewise as well as providing scientific advice to assure proper collection and compilation of birth data. Both are board-certified physicians.

Nationally, 500 to 1,000 hospitals in a variety of settings along with numerous universities, institutes and community organizations will be involved, Teufel said. CRHSSD will also work closely with Battelle, one of the world’s largest research and analysis firms, as its personnel conduct home and clinic visits, screenings and other activities for the NCS through a field office the company plans to establish in the region.

“The National Children’s Study will bring dozens of jobs and millions of dollars to Southern Illinois,” Teufel said. “Between September 2008 and October 2013, the NCS will on average have employed the equivalent of 12 full-time people in Southern Illinois per year.

We expect the project will bring over $7 million to Southern Illinois across the next five years. There will be funding for the equivalent of about 20 full-time positions for each of the two peak years (fiscal years 2011 and 2013). Additionally, we anticipate the project will last another 20 years after this initial funding period, bringing even more money and jobs to Southern Illinois. At a societal level, this study will help to answer questions regarding health and development that could not be addressed without a study of this magnitude.”

Monetary and non-monetary incentives will go to participants and to participating medical facilities. Teufel noted that currently some 93 percent of the Johnson, Williamson and Union counties births occur in Memorial Hospital at Carbondale or at the Heartland Medical Center in Marion. Both of these hospitals as well as two in Missouri and two in Kentucky that serve the region support the project. As a result, participants would be able to receive care from their preferred providers.

During the past two years, Congress allocated a total of $179.9 million nationally for the study. Initially, the goal within the newly announced expansion area is building awareness and laying the groundwork for the study. Recruitment of families will probably begin by early in the third year of the project. By the fifth year, they expect to have 544 infants and their families involved. The remainder of the 1,000 families and children will agree to participate by year seven.

It’s believed that with careful analysis, utilization of this information will result in improved health and health care for the participants by implementing evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies. The project’s lifespan is set at 25 years and throughout that time span, the total estimated cost of NCS is $3.2 billion. This is the largest monetary investment in a study of children’s health in history.