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NIH-led Children’s Health Study On Hold

Health: Ambitious federal project to link environmental exposures and genetics to children’s health put on hold in light of critical expert report

by Britt E. Erickson
June 19, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 25

An NIH-led study of children’s health, for which the agency has already spent more than $1 billion, is on hold in light of a highly critical review by a panel of the National Academies.

Called the National Children’s Study (NCS), the ambitious federal project aims to link environmental exposures and genetics to the health and development of 100,000 children from before birth to age 21. But, as designed, the study lacks the scientific rationale and oversight needed to produce meaningful results, the academies panel says.

The study has struggled with design problems from the start. After more than a decade of planning, it lacks protocols for sampling and data collection, the academies panel finds.

NIH Director Francis S. Collins says he will seek expert advice over the next several weeks on how to proceed. NIH officials had planned on launching the main part of the study next year. Now it is unclear when, or if, it will begin. “There have been continued concerns, both from outside experts and from NIH senior leadership” about whether the study can move forward, Collins says.

Some children’s health researchers still see value in the study. They hope it will reveal associations between environmental exposures and disorders such as asthma, autism, diabetes, and obesity. If carried out successfully, the study will maximize “the chances for discoveries to address potentially preventable conditions that cause child morbidity,” says Greg J. Duncan, a professor of education at the University of California, Irvine, who chaired the National Academies committee that wrote the report.


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