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The Power of the Big Picture

Dec 27, 2006 5:00 PM

How the National Children's Study Is Playing Out in Utah

Politics may delete "national" from the title and divert millions of dollars from the National Children's Study (NCS). But the research, like its focus--the health and development of the next generation of children--will go on. That much is clear to Edward B. Clark, M.D.

"We know we have an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. We have another epidemic of asthma," Clark told National Public Radio's All Things Considered last February. "We have an epidemic of autism, and all of these really point to the fact that the current generation of children is the first in hundreds of years to be less healthy than their parents.

"I'm not only surprised, I'm baffled," said Clark, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine and medical director of Primary Children's Medical Center, "why a study that has such broad support throughout the nation should be targeted for closure."

That's what happened when the White House sent its proposed budget for fiscal year 2007 to Congress early last spring--less than four months after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had announced with much fanfare the selection of six "Vanguard" centers to pilot the first phases of the study, including the U of U, Primary Children's Medical Center, and Salt Lake County. The designation carried with it a $16 million contract from the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, NIH, and other federal partners. Already, the U team is gearing up to begin enrolling study participants in January 2008.

Like his colleagues across the country, Clark was caught off guard by the budget news. But within hours, Utah's principal investigator had retrenched and strategized contingency plans to continue what he considers critical research. "We're moving full speed ahead. This is political hardball," he told his core NCS team of 15 gathered in what they presciently had dubbed "the War Room" in the U pediatrics department. Taped on the wall behind them was the 16-foot-long timeline for Utah. "No matter what happens, we're committed to carrying out an extensive study in our region."

Not because Clark and his team, who represent seven departments in the School of Medicine, in addition to others in four colleges and 10 departments across the U campus, had worked since 2000 to dream and brainstorm, analyze, write, and rewrite the 1,500-page proposal that earned them the prestigious selection as a Vanguard site. Rather, the NCS, in whatever form it takes, has a unique power: it will change lives. It already has in Utah.

Whether they're newly recruited from New York or longtime U of U faculty, individuals on Utah's Vanguard team reflect how this historic study is powered not only by professional expertise, but by what they're each most passionate about.

Read the complete article at Health Sciences Report.

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