Geisel receives NIH research grant

by Mika Jehoon Lee | 9/27/16 12:55am

Last week, researchers at the Geisel School of Medicine and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center received an award worth up to $42 million from the National Institutes of Health to study the influence of environmental exposures on children’s health.

The funding is provided as part of Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes, a seven-year initiative recently launched by the NIH to further investigate how environmental exposures could affect the health of children and adolescents.

“What we are trying to do in ECHO is pinpoint early environmental factors — factors that occur at the earliest stages of human development that may have impact on child health,” said Matthew G. Gillman, director of the ECHO program, in a video annoucing the program. “We can intervene to set kids on healthy trajectories for their lifetimes.”

ECHO’s approach to achieving its goals is different from that of its predecessor, the National Children’s Study. The NCS was abolished in 2014 due to design and feasibility issues. Whereas the NCS planned on creating a new national birth cohort to perform research, ECHO will fund existing cohorts.

One such cohort is the New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study, a research project led by Margaret Karagas, professor of epidemiology and chair of the department at Geisel. Launched in 2009 to examine the effects of various environmental factors on the health of pregnant women and their children in New Hampshire and Vermont, the NHBCS will be given up to $40 million in the next seven years to collaborate with other pediatric cohorts.

The NHBCS research team comprises faculty members across many departments, each tackling the issue with different tools.

Geography professor and NHBCS member Xun Shi wrote in an email that his role is to look at children’s environmental health issues from a geospatial perspective, such as whether access to green spaces has any impact on pediatric health outcomes.

The announcement of this funding should be promising to the pediatric industry in New Hampshire, as the state was not selected to be studied as part of the NCS.

“I think I can say this is a much-needed award to study children’s health and environmental influences on children’s health,” Karagas said. “The NIH funding climate is very challenging right now, so I think for all investigators, these are challenging times.”

Paul Palumbo, Geisel professor of medicine and pediatrics and infectious disease specialist at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, will receive up to $2 million over the next four years to conduct pediatric clinical trials research. Palumbo will partner with the investigative teams located in Lebanon and Manchester to engage in pediatric-focused studies.

“One of the really exciting things about the new funding is that it will allow us to establish clinical trial research infrastructure around pediatrics that will encourage and help support the performance of pediatric clinical trials in New Hampshire by the Dartmouth community,” Palumbo said.