WOONSOCKET — Boy, girl — pregnancy can be predictable, but here's something local mothers-to-be probably weren't expecting: an invitation to participate in the largest research study of childhood health — ever.
Thundermist Health Center, a regional hub of obstetric and pediatric care, rolled out the welcome mat Thursday for women who are pregnant or thinking about having a child in the next few years.
The National Children's Study is a joint venture of the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency that will track 100,000 children for more than two decades at a cost that could reach up to $9 billion. Researchers hope to draw roughly one percent of the nationwide pool of participants from several intake sites in Providence County, including Thundermist Health Center, according to Dr. Steve Buka, a professor of epidemiology from Brown University who is helping head up the state's component of the project.
“The National Childhood Study is the largest, longest and most thorough study of its kind ever attempted in the world,” said Buka.
Researchers will begin collecting data about participants from before they're born through every phase of development, until they're 21 years old, said Buka. The study aims to advance the medical community's understanding and treatment of birth defects, physical injuries, asthma, obesity, diabetes, behavioral disorders and learning disabilities.
The study will look at how children's health is affected by their family history, socioeconomic background and environmental factors present in their homes, schools and recreational areas.
Women who are already pregnant or who expect to become so within the next few years may be eligible to participate in the study, which will involve periodic visits with a research team. Participants will never be asked to take any medicines and may withdraw at any time without providing a reason.
Participants will be paid $25 for each visit with the research team, but just because you're having a baby or you're thinking about having one soon doesn't mean you qualify.
In order to ensure that the results of the study are solid, researchers are shooting to build the most random and diverse pool of participants they can, according to Buka. To achieve that goal, they've pre-selected not just the neighborhoods from which they will admit participants, but the very homes – even though they don't know who lives in them.
Based on the birth-rate demographics of the region they're looking at, Buka said researchers figure it could take up to four years to reach their goal of a thousand participants from Providence County.
Though the formal announcement of Thundermist's role as an intake site for the study came yesterday, Buka said the enrollment period actually opened a few weeks ago.
“We've already identified 35 participants and three babies have been born into the study,” he said.
If you want to find out if you qualify, call 1-800-806-4844.
Buka is one of two researchers who've been tapped to serve as principal investigators for the National Children's Study. His partner is Dr. Maureen Phipps, an obstetrician-gynecologist on the staff of Women & Infants Hospital.
In an era when medicine is increasingly focused on prevention, Phipps said researchers hope the study will shed light not just on what makes children sick, but what keeps them healthy.
“There are tremendous opportunities here for learning how children develop and grow into healthy adults,” she said. “We're also focusing on health.”
Maria Montanaro, the executive director of Thundermist Health Center, and Mayor Leo T. Fontaine joined Buka and Phipps in announcing the health clinic's role as an intake center for the study.
Montanaro said it was fitting that Thundermist has been chosen as one of the Providence County intake sites. The Clinton Street clinic is already considered a model for some of the most cutting-edge movements in health care, including the shift to electronic record-keeping and “patient-centered” delivery of multiple health care services in a single location.
“It's a natural fit for us to participate in the National Children's Study,” said Montanaro.