In the News

Researchers at CHOP and Penn plan to enroll 2,500 Philly-area pregnant patients, tracking the health of their fetuses through early childhood.

by Tom Avril, The Philadelphia Inquirer

The University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have won a $50 million grant to study how environmental factors affect the health of fetuses, babies, and toddlers.

Researchers plan to enroll 2,500 pregnant patients and their partners over a 7-year period with the grant from the National Institutes of Health, as part of a larger study of more than 60,000 children.

The study will track harmful environmental exposures such as pollution, violence, and extreme temperatures, as well as beneficial ones like walkability and green space.

All are thought to have significant effects on pediatric health, but the grant will allow researchers to tease out the individual impact of each, said CHOP neonatologist Heather Burris, one of three leaders of the Penn-CHOP portion of the study.

“We really need to understand the relative importance of each of these environmental toxicants and also what can be done about it,” she said.

Philadelphia joins national study
The national study, called Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO), has been underway since 2016, already yielding 1,200 peer-reviewed research articles, the NIH says.

The addition of Philadelphia to the mix will allow researchers to get a better sense of how environmental harms can have a disproportionate impact on children of color, who are underrepresented in some other participating locations, Burris said.

The other two project leaders are CHOP neonatologist Sara B. DeMauro and Sunni L. Mumford, a professor of epidemiology at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and the co-director of Penn’s Women’s Health Clinical Research Center.

The team plans to study the interplay between “macro” environmental factors like pollution and violence and the “micro” environment for each individual fetus: their parents’ diet, physical activity, stress, and sleep.

The researchers will monitor fetal health throughout pregnancy into the first three years of childhood, tracking preterm birth, asthma, obesity, and developmental delays.

The study seeks to enroll pregnant patients at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Hospital.

On Tuesday, Governor Josh Shapiro signed an executive order to create a Behavioral Health Council. The council aims to bring together state leaders, local governments, and community providers to develop a statewide action plan to address any gaps in access, affordability, or delivery of services, with the goal of removing silos across state agencies, health care providers, payers, state and local government sectors, and decreasing the wait time for services for Pennsylvanians in need.

Charged with setting the agenda for behavioral health under the Shapiro Administration, the council will be comprised of 33 members and include a diverse array of stakeholders with representation from state, county, and local governments, the provider community, advocacy groups, and individuals with lived experiences. A list of Council members is available online.

The executive order also creates an advisory committee that will share with the council industry knowledge, expertise, reports, findings, and feedback from the communities they serve to assist members in their work to improve the delivery of services. Read the complete press release.