A multi-institutional research team led by a Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigator is among the recipients of new National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants through the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) initiative. The ECHO program will investigate how exposure to a range of environmental factors in early development – from conception through early childhood – influences the health of children and adolescents.
“Every baby should have the best opportunity to remain healthy and thrive throughout childhood,” says NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. “ECHO will help us better understand the factors that contribute to optimal health in children.”
The MGH-based team, led by Carlos Camargo, MD, DrPH, MGH Department of Emergency Medicine, will investigate whether the microbial population of the nasal passages of young infants affects their risk of developing asthma. The study includes investigators from more than a dozen hospitals across the country that participate in the Emergency Medicine Network. Together, the investigators will pursue the question in two racially and ethnically diverse study groups: one group of more than 900 infants enrolled when hospitalized for a severe respiratory infection, and another group of more than 700 healthy infants. By following these children through the age of 6, the research team hopes to help develop interventions to prevent the development of asthma, which affects around 7 million children in the U.S.
“The long-term goal is to develop simple, safe, and cost-effective ways to alter the mix of airway bacteria that are present in everyone to prevent asthma and other important diseases,” says Camargo, who is a professor of Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School. The initial NIH grant, totaling $4.8 million, will fund the first two years of the project, successful completion of which should lead to additional years of funding as part of this seven-year NIH initiative.
Matthew W. Gillman, MD, ECHO Program Director, says, “I’m very excited to work with many of our nation’s best scientists to tackle vital unanswered questions about child health and development. 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.”
Massachusetts General Hospital, founded in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH Research Institute conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the nation, with an annual research budget of more than $800 million and major research centers in HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, computational and integrative biology, cutaneous biology, human genetics, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, regenerative medicine, reproductive biology, systems biology, photomedicine and transplantation biology. The MGH topped the 2015 Nature Index list of health care organizations publishing in leading scientific journals, earned the prestigious 2015 Foster G. McGaw Prize for Excellence in Community Service. In August 2016 the MGH was once again named to the Honor Roll in the U.S. News & World Report list of "America's Best Hospitals."
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