UMass Medical School is enrolling expectant mothers from Worcester County in a pilot program in preparation for the much larger National Children’s Study, the landmark undertaking in which 100,000 children will be followed from the womb to age 21 to determine the environment’s impact on growth, development and onset of disease.
“We are excited to announce that we are enrolling our first participants in this pilot study, an effort that may significantly benefit children’s health for generations to come,” said Marianne Felice, MD, professor of pediatrics and obstetrics & gynecology, and principal investigator of the NCS Worcester County Study Site Center. “The National Children’s Study is the largest nationwide longitudinal study of a birth cohort of children ever undertaken in the United States. The data collected will inform the policies by which we treat children in the future.”
UMMS was awarded a $3.6 million, one-year contract from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to recruit study participants from local OB/GYN offices and hospitals. This method of recruitment, called provider-based sampling, is an alternative to the original National Children’s Study plan in which data collectors would knock on doors in targeted neighborhoods across the country.
Dr. Felice said the goal is to determine if provider-based sampling is a more efficient and cost-effective way of recruiting for the main study.
Family Health Center of Worcester is the first practice identified by the NIH for participation in the Worcester pilot study. UMMS is working with Family Health staff to arrange appointments for data collectors to meet patients at their first prenatal appointments and ask them to consider participating in the study. Women who agree to take part will meet at home with data collectors twice over the course of their pregnancies and again after their babies are born. At each visit, the women will answer a series of questions about their health and the environment in which they live. Participants must be residents of Worcester County and sign up at their first prenatal appointment with their medical care provider.
“This is an exciting new venture in the 40-year partnership between Family Health Center of Worcester, Inc. and UMass Medical School,” said Frances Anthes, CEO and president of Family Health. “Family Health is thrilled to open the door to our community’s participation in the work of the medical school as the first site in this important research project. This groundbreaking project will teach us all how to create healthier lives for our children.”
Eight data collectors have been hired and certified for the program, along with two dozen additional new hires to support the effort. A total of 15 physician’s offices and prenatal clinics will be chosen to participate. The sites are being chosen by the national office of the NCS to ensure a representative sample of Worcester County.
This is the second National Children’s Study contract for UMMS. In 2007, UMMS was awarded a $16.2 million, five-year contract and served as one of 40 sites across the country conducting formative research projects to determine the least costly and most efficient way to conduct the National Children's Study. Research has ranged from the best ways to collect environmental samples such as water, dust, soil and air, to how to engage the fathers of the infants in the study. After all the formative studies are completed, the central office of the National Children’s Study will have more information on the best practices for conducting the main study.
Data from the National Children's Study will be used to help determine how to prevent and treat some of the nation's most pressing health problems, including autism, birth defects, diabetes and obesity.