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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Grant to allow UA study of birth defects

    With the help of a $44 million grant, the UA Department of Pediatrics will be helping to answer such questions as what causes autism in children and triggers preterm birth, and what leads to cerebral palsy.

    The National Institutes of Health made the UA its study center for Arizona National Children’s Study Friday.

    It was a competitive grant process, but the UA actively pursued it, said Sydney Pettygrove, assistant professor of public health and a lead investigator in the study.

    “”It would be really … inconceivable to have this type of data collected in the state of Arizona without the participation of the University of Arizona,”” she said. “”It shows the leadership that the U of A has in research and in the community.””

    The grant is a significant step in the right direction for the examination of the relationship between the environment and human genes, Pettygrove added.

    “”I’m really happy. This is just the sort of study that I’ve always wanted to do,”” she said. “”This is what we need to do to really answer questions about how environmental exposures combine with genetic predisposition to affect whether or not a person develops an adverse health outcome.”” Such environmental exposures can include pesticides, air pollution, diet, infectious diseases during pregnancy and what happens during delivery.

    “”This type of study is fairly rare, because it’s large and expensive, but there are a lot of different questions that require (it),”” Pettygrove said. “”We can learn things … that you really can’t figure out any other way.””

    Fernando Martinez, UA pediatrics professor and director of the Arizona Respiratory Center, is the principal investigator for the studies that will be conducted in three Arizona counties: Apache, Pinal and Maricopa.

    Each county will have a lead investigator. Pettygrove will oversee Maricopa County; Francisco Garcia, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, will preside over Apache County; while Mari Wilhelm, associate professor of family and consumer sciences, will be responsible for Pinal County.

    “”The goal is to end up with a nationally representative sample, where all the different sorts of people in the country are represented,”” Pettygrove said. “”Maricopa for urban, Apache for indigenous and Pinal for rural.””

    But before the studies can begin, Pettygrove said there is approximately a two-year planning period.

    “”(We’re) trying to make as much contact with as many people as we can to create partnerships,”” Garcia said. “”We know that we’re going to have to work hand-in-hand with people who actually live (in these counties) to figure out how we can do this in a way that is appropriate.””

    Garcia said that the dedication of the presiding teams is essential to the success of the studies in the future.

    “”There will be lots of visits up to (Apache county),”” he said. “”Our job is to create an environment where we promote what we intended to do and explain what the study will involve.””

    After the planning period, recruitment of the population will begin around the 28th month, Pettygrove said.

    “”Anything that we can think of that you can ask about, we have the potential to collect information on,”” she said.

    The children who are identified in the study will be followed until they are about 21, Pettygrove added.

    “”It’s a little overwhelming, because it’s going to be a tremendous amount of work and a tremendous opportunity,”” she said.

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