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Hasbro Children’s Hospital, the pediatric division of Rhode Island Hospital, has been awarded a $1.8million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of a national research project to study the effects of environmental exposures on the health and development of children. The grant is tied to a NIH $157-million, seven-year initiative called Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO).
The ECHO program will investigate how exposure to a range of environmental factors in early development — from conception through early childhood — influences the health of children and adolescents.
The Hasbro Children’s Hospital research will be led by Phyllis Dennery, MD, pediatrician-in-chief at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Dennery will be joined on the initiative by Thomas Chun, MD, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, and Abbot Laptook, MD, medical director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Women & Infants Hospital.
ECHO studies will focus on four key pediatric outcomes: upper and lower airway; obesity; pre, peri and postnatal outcomes; and neurodevelopment.
“We know that pediatric health issues can impact a child for the rest of his or her life,” said Dennery. “But, we also know that early intervention can drastically improve the course of a child’s long-term health and even avoid negative outcomes altogether. So, better understanding of how maternal and environmental influences impact diseases such as autism, obesity and asthma amongst others, will be very important to the health of Rhode Island children and children across the country.”
Researchers will look at a broad range of potentially harmful exposures, from air pollution and chemicals in neighborhoods, to societal factors such as stress, to individual behaviors like sleep and diet. Some exposures may act through any number of biological processes, for example, changes in the expression of genes or development of the immune system.
A critical component of ECHO will be to use the NIH-funded Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) program to build state-of-the art pediatric clinical research networks in rural and medically underserved areas, so that children from these communities can participate in clinical trials. Hasbro Children’s Hospital is one of 17 of these sites, with a goal of enrolling more than 50,000 children nationally.