The University of Nebraska Medical Center has received a $1.6 million, four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health with a goal to make children healthier.
As part of the grant, UNMC and Children’s Hospital & Medical Center will establish a pediatric clinical trials network focusing on a wide spectrum of pediatric diseases that will enable participation from children across Nebraska and the United States.
“There are networks for pediatric cancer, cardiac disease and neonatology but there hasn’t been one for a broader scope of pediatric disease,” said Jessica Snowden, M.D., associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases at UNMC and Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. “There aren’t a lot of large scale, multi-center studies for children like there are for adults.”
Clinical trials determine if a new test or treatment works and is safe and also looks at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for children with chronic illnesses. Clinical trials also make available the newest and potentially best therapies.
Dr. Snowden said the goal is to answer a wide variety of questions.
“Many times as pediatricians we are making decisions based on information from adults, but children are very different than adults,” she said. “To be able to get information about what’s really going to work for children is going to be wonderfully effective and helpful. It’s very exciting for us to be part of it.”
The grant is part of the NIH’s $157 million in awards to 17 health centers in fiscal year 2016 to launch a seven-year initiative called Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes. The program will investigate how exposure to a range of environmental factors from conception through early childhood influences the health of children and adolescents, including upper and lower airway health and development, obesity, and brain and nervous system development.
NIH is the nation’s largest medical research and funding agency.
Another thing the grant will do is enable researchers to make clinical trials in Nebraska and outside of Nebraska accessible to rural and underrepresented children statewide.
Dr. Snowden said frequently children in rural areas don’t have access because of transportation barriers or their parents don’t know about a trial.
Researchers will reach out to clinics across the state – those that are patients of Children’s clinics and clinics that aren’t part of Children’s. Families won’t necessarily have to come to Omaha to participate in a study.
Clinical trials are expected to begin enrolling through the Nebraska Pediatric Clinical Trials Unit within the next year. Updates regarding the trials will be available through the UNMC and Children’s websites as the network is established and clinical trials begin.