Dr. Clancy Blair awarded NIH ECHO grant

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) yesterday announced $157 million in awards in fiscal year 2016 to launch a seven-year initiative called Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO). 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,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “ECHO will help us better understand the factors that contribute to optimal health in children.”

Experiences during sensitive developmental windows, including around the time of conception, later in pregnancy, and during infancy and early childhood, can have long-lasting effects on the health of children. These experiences encompass a broad range of exposures, from air pollution and chemicals in our neighborhoods, to societal factors such as stress, to individual behaviors like sleep and diet. They may act through any number of biological processes, for example changes in the expression of genes or development of the immune system.

The awards announced today will build the infrastructure and capacity for the ECHO program to support multiple, synergistic longitudinal studies that extend and expand existing cohort studies of mothers and their children. ECHO research will focus on factors that may influence health outcomes around the time of birth as well as into later childhood and adolescence, including upper and lower airway health and development, obesity, and brain and nervous system development.

Dr. Clancy Blair, Professor of Cognitive Psychology in the Department of Applied Psychology at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, was one of the awardees of the ECHO program's Pediatric Cohorts component. The initial amount of the award is $5.9 million for a two-year period, with the opportunity for total funding of between $30 million to $45 million over a seven-year period.

The grant, titled "Early Life Stress and the Environmental Origins of Disease: a Population-based Prospective Longitudinal Study of Children in Rural Poverty" (NIH grant #UG3OD023332), will build upon Dr. Blair's work through the Family Life Project to extend a longitudinal cohort of children and families in rural poverty to test key hypotheses about the ways in which early psychosocial and chemical exposures adversely affect pediatric health outcomes in the areas of neurodevelopment and obesity.

Dr. Blair will be partnering with:
  • Dr. Lynne Vernon-Feagans, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Dr. Mark Greenberg, Pennsylvania State University
  • Dr. Tom O'Connor, University of Rochester Medical Center
  • Dr. Michael Willoughby, Research Triangle Institute
  • Dr. Leonardo Trasande, NYU School of Medicine
  • Dr. Douglas Granger, University of California, Irvine
  • Dr. David C. Folch, Florida State University
  • Dr. Stephen Petrill, Ohio State University
  • Dr. Christopher Bartlett, Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital
For more information about the ECHO program, Dr. Blair's project, and NYU School of Medicine's award, see NIH's announcement here, NYU Steinhardt's announcement here, and NYU's press release here.