The nation’s largest study on children’s health will kick off today that will fund 150 to 250 jobs in metropolitan Detroit and four other Michigan counties.
Findings from the study could lead to healthier children and more effective prenatal care for pregnant women, said Nigel Paneth, M.D., the lead researcher of the project with Michigan State University.
Through a $75 million grant to the Michigan Alliance for the National Children’s Study from the National Institutes of Health, the study seeks to understand the causes of such childhood disorders as autism, diabetes, cancers, birth defects and severe mental retardation.
“We in epidemiology look at things differently. We are not interested as much in the disease; it is more in the root of the disease, before people become sick,” Paneth said.
“Once people become sick, there is only so much that can be done,” he said.
The multi-state study, which will start this week in Wayne County, will track more than 100,000 pregnant women or those considering becoming pregnant and their babies until age 21. Women ages 18 to 49 will be recruited.
A press conference will be held today at the Detroit Athletic Club to announce kickoff of the patient recruiting part of the study.
Macomb County and three other counties, including Genesee, Grand Traverse and Lenawee, will be added to the study over the next several years.
Since 2007, Paneth said 20 to 25 people have been hired in Wayne County and another 10 to 15 people are receiving salary support to lay the groundwork for the study.
Of the $75 million grant, $18.5 million will be spent in the Wayne County portion. About $3 million has been spent so far, mostly on salaries, Paneth said.
“We have been setting up infrastructure, developed programming questionnaires, trained our interviewers, hired seven obstetric nurses and contacted 100 practices and 20 hospitals” in Wayne County, Paneth said.
The other four counties, including Macomb, will receive the remaining $57 million.
“We need nurses to draw blood when we meet patients in their home, collect environmental samples around the home like dust and air,” Paneth said.
Patients also will visit clinics to give blood samples.
Studies on heart disease more than 50 years ago found there are environmental, behavioral and diet factors that contribute to the disease, Paneth said.
“We found the correlation from high blood pressure, smoking, blood sugar, diabetes, diet and obesity to heart disease,” he said. “Now, one million fewer people die from heart disease.”
Paneth said he hopes that the research will help save the lives of thousands of children in a similar fashion.
“We spend $100 billion on child health care that could be saved by reducing incidents of diabetes, cancer, premature birth, autism and mental retardation” in children, Paneth said.
Partners in the study include Henry Ford Health System, Michigan Department of Community Health, the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, Detroit Medical Center‘s Children’s Hospital of Michigan and MSU.
In Wayne County, the Detroit Department of Health & Wellness Promotion and Wayne County Health and Human Services are contributing, Paneth said.