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Published on July 19, 2018

newborn baby

Avera Research Could Shape Many Generations of Moms and Children

The example is Framingham.

If you’ve had any sort of heart disease risk assessment, you’ve likely had the Framingham Risk Score applied to you. The score was developed over several generations of volunteers in Framingham, Mass., who contributed to medical knowledge by taking part in the study, which is ongoing.

A team of scientists with the Avera Research Institute Center for Pediatric & Community Research are hoping their efforts in the Environmental Influence on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) study will shape the way prenatal babies, newborns, children and moms receive care in the future. Like the Framingham study that changed many approaches to heart health, this study could have long-term positive impacts on the way health care professionals take care of these groups.

These researchers are poised to receive a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant that could be the largest ever in South Dakota. Having the study based in South Dakota has had the advantage of bringing more representation from this region, making it relevant and meaningful for people who live here in the Midwest.

“In many ways, this is a rebirth of the National Children’s Study that was mandated as an extensive, long-term study on childhood health,” said Amy Elliott, PhD, Chief Clinical Research Officer at the Avera Research Institute Center for Pediatric & Community Research, and co-chair of the ECHO bio-specimen committee. “Avera is one of only 35 nationwide grantees chosen to participate in ECHO. As we examine a broad range of environmental influences, such as sleep, nutrition, allergens and social relationships, we can see how they impact children both prenatally and after delivery.”

Holistic Approach to Research

The study focuses on a number of key outcomes that have high impacts on public health, including upper and lower airway conditions, such as asthma; obesity; neurodevelopment, including ADHD and autism; and pre-, peri- and postnatal outcomes, such as prematurity.

Positive health – which looks at thriving children, not just a lack of illness – is another imperative aspect of the research.

“There’s a dynamic sense of community engagement in this project in which we’re not just seeking participants, which we continue to do, but where we can use the results and bring them back to the communities,” said Jyoti Angal, MPH, Director of Clinical Research at the Avera Research Institute Center for Pediatric & Community Research. “The study is especially focused on early childhood exposure to environmental elements. We can, in time, go back and see potential risks, identify and prevent them.”

Angal and Elliott said that so far, robust response has led to on-schedule enrollment for participants; more than 1,900 children are already part of the study, and in just a few weeks, more than 130 pregnant women also joined the effort. The study will include participants from the Safe Passage study and will enroll more women who are currently pregnant and who plan to deliver at the Women’s Center at Avera McKennan in Sioux Falls or Rapid City Regional Hospital in Rapid City.

Shaping National Science

Elliott said the “win-win” nature of the study makes it an exciting time for her team, as they continue to gather information, work with their colleagues around the nation and, in time, offer insights that can help populations that need it – moms and young children.

“We’re contributing to national science efforts, and if you look at the ECHO map, the dots on it are mostly on the coast – and then there is us. We’re no longer just a flyover state,” she said. “We can compare our population at a national level and by using vast quantities of data, we can find information that has the potential to improve public health in the future.”

You can learn more about eligibility and participation requirements online or call 605-504-3154.

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Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.

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