New Research on Early Life Origins of Heart Health

​$3.7 million grant from American Heart Association to fund population, clinical, and epigenetic studies on cardiovascular health in children

 
Heart health in children will be the focus of three closely synergistic research projects and an integrated multidisciplinary training program, that are newly funded by a $3.7 million four-year grant led by Bradley S. Marino, MD, MPP, MSCE, a pediatric cardiologist from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Professor of Pediatrics and Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. As one of only four centers selected to participate in the American Heart Association’s Strategically Focused Children’s Research Network, research by Marino and colleagues will provide evidence for innovative policies, programs and practices to preserve cardiovascular health in childhood and beyond. The center will be co-directed by Don Lloyd-Jones, MD, SCM, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Medicine and Chair of the Department of Preventive Cardiology. 

Heart disease and stroke affect more than 100 million Americans, but these conditions can be prevented by paying more attention to heart health in kids.
   
“Today, ideal cardiovascular health is rare in middle age and that is due to progressive loss that starts in childhood,” says Marino, who is the Co-Director of Research and Academic Affairs in the Heart Center at Lurie Children’s. “Through three closely interrelated studies, we will aim to define a novel paradigm for measuring, monitoring and modifying cardiovascular health from birth to age 12. This will help us learn how to promote, preserve and restore ideal heart health for all.”

The center’s population study, entitled “CVH Trajectories from Birth Through Adolescence” and led by Norrina Allen, PhD MPH, will establish through novel “big data” methodology a practical means to track cardiovascular health from birth to 12 years of age, assessing the prevalence and distribution of cardiovascular health at birth and trajectories of cardiovascular health.  This project will, for the first time, evaluate key potential modifiers of neurodevelopmental health and social and environmental exposure on cardiovascular health trajectories.

The center’s clinical intervention project, entitled “Keeping IDeal CVH Family Intervention Trial: KIDFIT” and led by Linda Van Horn, PhD RD, will evaluate the effect of an antenatal maternal weight control intervention, and concurrent childhood dietary intervention on cardiovascular health metrics in 3- 5-year-olds.

The center’s basic science project, entitled “Characterizing Dynamic Epigenomic CVH Markers in Early Life” and led by Lifang Hou, MD PhD, will assess dynamic epigenetic markers of fetal and early life cardiovascular health from birth to 12 years of age, overall and in the context of neurodevelopmental health and social and environmental exposure (in patients in the population study), and in response to the clinical interventions in patients in the clinical intervention study.

The center’s Training Program led by Matthew Davis MD, MAPP, will leverage the extensive institutional resources and experienced mentors at Lurie Children’s, the Feinberg School of Medicine, and Northwestern University to provide a unique multi-disciplinary learning experience for select fellows, both locally and by exchange with other centers in the Children’s Network, for life course research in children’s cardiovascular health.

Other centers selected to participate in AHA’s Strategically Focused Children’s Research Network are at the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., University of Utah and the Duke Center for Pediatric Obesity Research. They will focus on rheumatic heart disease, congenital heart disease and childhood obesity. Each center will receive $3.7 million over four years, starting July 1, 2017.

This award is the first center grant sponsored and supported by the Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences (DevSci) at Northwestern University; led by center grant collaborator Laurie Wakschlag, PhD. This “healthier, earlier” center exemplifies the transformative science that DevSci enables. The DevSci connectivity that forms the foundation of the center rests on the integration of pediatrics, preventive medicine, cardiac epidemiology, neuroscience and developmental psychology – the scope is truly unparalleled in its crossing lifespan, and integration of state-of-the-art methods from big data statistical modeling to neuroscience.

Research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in the U.S. News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 198,000 children from 50 states and 51 countries.
 

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