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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 3, 2008

NIH selects UI, Polk County for National Children's Study

Health and educational organizations in Polk County, along with the University of Iowa, have been selected to participate in the National Children's Study, a long-range comprehensive National Institutes of Health investigation of the interaction of genes and the environment on children's health. The participation includes an $11.9 million contract for the first five years.

The study will follow a representative national sample of 100,000 children from before birth to age 21, including approximately 1,000 children from Polk County. The study will investigate factors influencing the development of such conditions as autism, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, prematurity, diabetes, asthma and obesity.

Entities involved in recruitment, data collection and other study aspects will include the Polk County Health Department, Iowa Health - Des Moines, Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Broadlawns Medical Center, Des Moines University and Visiting Nurse Services. The UI will provide overall coordination and representation to the study's national committees. In addition, the National Opinion Research Center, based at the University of Chicago, and school nurses in Polk County will be involved in the effort.

The investigation is the largest child health study for the United States and will likely benefit the health of adults as well, the study researchers said. NIH officials and local partners expect the study to yield health information throughout its 25-year span.

"The Children's Health Study is a holistic approach to learn what factors impact children's health. It's a very ambitious project, and it's exhilarating that we in Iowa get to be a part of it," said the site principal investigator for Polk County, Rizwan Shah, M.D., medical director of the Regional Child Protection Center at Blank Children's Hospital, part of Iowa Health - Des Moines. "Because Polk County presents a unique combination of rural and urban populations, we were chosen.

"Diseases and illnesses that affect adult populations have their start in childhood. If we can look at the factors that influence children's health, we can anticipate how to better take care of adults and have an impact on society as a whole," Shah added.

"Iowa has a long history of providing exemplary care and education for its infants and children through public health and point-of-care medicine, and this study will enable us to help continue that ethic," said Jeff Murray, M.D., the study's principal investigator and professor with the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, as well as colleges of dentistry, liberal arts and sciences and public health, and a pediatrician with UI Children's Hospital. "In 20 years, children will be so much better taken care of, based on what we'll learn from the Children's Health Study."

Participant recruitment in Polk County is expected to begin in 2011. The selection of the state's most populous county will help provide insight into effects of exposure to agricultural activities and livestock and public or private water sources, and allow for the inclusion of people who have migrated from distant parts of the globe, noted study site co-investigator, Bryan Larsen, Ph.D., who is dean of research at Des Moines University.

"The Children's Health Study allows us to focus on unique aspects of our own population and to discover and improve on those things that might diminish the health of our children. At the same time, there is no doubt that some of the discoveries that likely will be made here in Polk County can be generalized to populations elsewhere in the United States and perhaps the world," Larsen said. "We're excited about the partnership and consider it a privilege to make contributions that extend beyond our state boundaries."

Within just a few years, the study might provide information on disorders of pregnancy and birth. Since women will be recruited before they give birth, and in some instances even before they become pregnant, the study can provide insight into the causes and contributors of preterm birth.

The investigators will collect genetic, biological, and environmental samples and compile statistical information for study analyses investigating how genetic and environmental factors influence health and disease. Study volunteers will be recruited throughout the United States, from rural, urban and suburban areas, from all income and educational levels, and from all racial groups. When it is fully operational, the study is expected to include 105 study locations throughout the United States.

Authorized by Congress in the Children's Health Act of 2000, the National Children's Study is being conducted by a consortium of federal agencies, including the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Additional information about the National Children's Study is available online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa, 52242

MEDIA CONTACTS: Becky Soglin, UI Health Science Relations, 319-335-6660,; Rick Kozin, Polk County Health Department, 515-286-3926,