Parents of children with serious health problems know that there are always more questions about the condition than there are satisfying explanations for what caused it, how to best treat it, and how it could have been prevented. This will change as a result of the National Children’s Study, an unprecedented look at the effects of genetic and environmental factors on child and human health in the United States.

The Miller School of Medicine received a $40 million contract from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (with an option that could increase the value to $54.6 million) to conduct the National Children’s Study in South Florida and to serve as the coordinating study center for the three additional Florida locations in Hillsborough, Orange, and Baker counties.

Nationwide, the study will follow 100,000 children from birth to their 21st birthday, seeking answers to pressing questions on conditions including birth defects, obesity, heart disease, and autism.

“This is a historic study championed by our own University of Miami President Donna Shalala in her former role as secretary of Health and Human Services,” said Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., who announced the award at a news conference on October 3. “It is a privilege and an honor to be a leader for the state in this formidable effort that will be of incomparable value to our nation’s families.”

UM researchers will work with families, government agencies, community groups, health care providers, hospitals, public agencies, and universities across the state to recruit 4,000 children for the study.

“The body of research that results from this effort will likely have the greatest impact on what keeps children healthy and causes disease in children and adults when compared with prior government-funded studies in child health,” said Steven Lipshultz, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics, associate executive dean for child health at the Miller School, chief of staff of the Holtz Children’s Hospital, and principal investigator of the National Children’s Study in Florida.

The National Children’s Study began in response to the Children’s Health Act of 2000, when Congress directed the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and other federal agencies to undertake a national, long-term study of children’s health and development in relation to environmental exposures.