Environmental Factor, September 2010, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Newton to chair National Children's Study committee
By Thaddeus Schug
Continuing a long-standing leadership presence for NIEHS in the National Children's Study (NCS) (http://www.nationalchildrensstudy.gov/Pages/default.aspx) , Sheila Newton, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation, will chair the Interagency Coordinating Committee (ICC). Newton, who initially joined the ICC in 2003, will serve a yearlong appointment as chair beginning in September. The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) (http://www.nichd.nih.gov/) is the lead NIH institute for the study in partnership with NIEHS.
The NCS is the largest long-term study of environmental and genetic influences on children's health ever conducted in the United States. By following 100,000 children from before birth to age 21, researchers hope to better understand how children's genes and their environments interact to affect their health and development.
"The NCS is entering a new stage in development," Newton said. "It is important that the community understand that the study is alive and well, and that we are changing focus a little to field test and reframe some of the components of the vanguard study." The vanguard phase of the study is being retooled to provide guidance on a wide range of operational issues, to inform decision making when the main study gets underway. "The idea is that these efforts will accelerate development and deployment of the main study," Newton continued.
In addition to NICHD and NIEHS, other lead agencies for the study include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The ICC, which oversees broad study issues and ensures interagency collaborations, consists of members from all four lead agencies.
In her role as chair of the ICC, Newton is responsible for setting the program agenda, interfacing with the program office, and making sure the ICC's work moves forward and all that all voices are heard. "It is the role of ICC to ensure the NCS stays aligned to the interests of the lead agencies," she said.
NIEHS has maintained a visible presence on the ICC since the study was authorized by Congress as part of the Children's Health Act of 2000. Past NIEHS ICC members include Gwen Collman, Ph.D., acting director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT), and Principal Investigator Matthew Longnecker, M.D., Sc.D. Currently, both Newton and DERT Health Scientist Administrator Kimberly Gray, Ph.D., hold positions on the ICC. In addition, NIEHS Senior Advisor Allen Dearry, Ph.D., serves on the NCS Advisory Committee, the federally chartered body of external advisors for the study.
The NCS will eventually involve 100,000 families followed over a 21-year period, in 105 study counties served by an estimated 40 centers nationwide. Biomedical and environmental samples will be stored at a central repository, and, along with clinical and lifestyle questionnaire data, they will be analyzed to provide insights into the environmental causes of such conditions as birth defects, premature birth, asthma, diabetes, childhood cancers, and autism.
(Thaddeus Schug, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Signal Transduction and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor. He is currently on detail as a program analyst in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)