Media Contacts

Julie Kiefer

Manager, Science Communications, University of Utah Health Sciences Office of Public Affairs
Phone: 801-587-1293

Sep 21, 2016 9:53 AM

(SALT LAKE CITY)—Today, the University of Utah announced a $3.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate how a person’s genetic makeup and a range of environmental factors, from air quality to nutrition, influence the health of children and adolescents. NIH is initially funding the U for two years, but upon meeting proposed milestones may extend support for an additional five years. The U is joining institutions from across the nation to launch the initiative, called Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO), to follow children from the womb into childhood.

This comprehensive investigation will combine existing Utah studies with those of other populations from across the country, expanding on longstanding collaborations between the University of Utah, Primary Children’s Hospital, and hundreds of Utah families. What’s currently called the Utah Children’s Project started as part of the National Children’s Study in 2009, and was in danger of terminating after NIH began shutting down that national study in 2012. Since then, local donors, participating families, and the U’s Department of Pediatrics, who see the value of the research, have been providing support to continue Utah’s portion of the program. Recently, the program has grown to include pregnant families from the U’s HOPE study, allowing researchers to track a child’s earliest environmental exposures, starting as a fetus in the womb.

Utah’s ability to maintain and grow the research, while collecting meaningful biological and environmental information, contributed toward NIH choosing the U to partner in the new ECHO initiative, according to Edward Clark, M.D., Chair of the Department of Pediatrics.

“We have never wavered from our commitment to the health of the children in our community,” says Clark. He is one of the study’s principal investigators together with Christy Porucznik, Ph.D., M.S.P.S., and Joseph Stanford, M.D., M.S.P.H., both from the Division of Public Health in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine. “This award is a recognition of the great science that goes on here and the commitment of the people in Utah to improve the health of our children and our nation.”

The U is one of 35 research programs that will enroll more than 50,000 children from diverse racial, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds from across the U.S. Researchers will analyze existing data as well as follow study participants over time to address the early environmental origins of designated health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, autism, asthma, and premature birth. These investigations will help define some of the factors that contribute to health and disease, identify markers for early detection, and potentiallly methods for treatment and prevention.

“ECHO will combine what we learn from children in Utah with information from populations from across the country to address questions that can only big data can answer,” says Porucznik. “This kind of work is a great example of where science is heading in the future.”

Learn more about ECHO here.

children's health