RTI International awarded large NIH grant to study how environmental factors affect child health

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC -- The National Institutes of Health today announced that RTI International, in collaboration with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, will receive a seven-year grant to analyze data from its new Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program.

ECHO is an initiative launched by the NIH to understand how exposure to a range of environmental factors in early development – from conception through early childhood – influences the health of children and adolescents. NIH issued $157 million in awards in fiscal year 2016. The RTI/Bloomberg School grant is for $5 million in fiscal year 2016 and worth a total of $95 million over the 7 years of the program.

ECHO will focus on four key areas: obesity; airway conditions such as asthma and allergies; neurodevelopment, including diseases such as autism; and prenatal and postnatal outcomes, such as birth defects.

Experiences during sensitive developmental windows can have long-lasting effects on the health of children. These experiences encompass a broad range of exposures, from air pollution and chemicals in our neighborhoods, to societal factors such as stress, to individual behaviors like sleep and diet. These exposures may act through any number of biological processes such as changes in the expression of genes or development of the immune system.

“I’m very excited to work with many of our nation’s best scientists to tackle vital unanswered questions about child health and development,” said NIH ECHO Program Director Matthew W. Gillman, M.D.  “I believe we have the right formula of cohorts, clinical trials and supporting resources, including a range of new tools and measures, to help figure out which factors may allow children to achieve the best health outcomes over their lifetimes.”

The complementary data management, epidemiology, and biostatistics expertise and resources of RTI and the Bloomberg School will be combined to form ECHO’s Data Analysis Center. While responsibilities will be shared, RTI will take the lead on data management and the Bloomberg School will lead data analysis.

“For a study this large and this complex—with many longitudinal and multi-level analysis requirements—managing, harmonizing, and analyzing data and assuring data quality will be paramount to success,” said Corette Parker, DrPH, senior biostatistician and RTI’s principal investigator. “Between RTI and the Bloomberg School, we bring an extensive and diverse combination of the necessary experience and expertise to the work.”

In 2015, RTI also was awarded one of six of the Children’s Health and Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR) Lab Hubs that will be used in the ECHO program to provide the extramural research community access to laboratory and data analyses to include evaluation of environmental exposures in children’s health research.