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The Early Growth and Development Study Pediatric Cohort (ECHO)

Jenae Neiderhiser headshot

PI: Jenae Neiderhiser

NIH UH3OD023389
Coronavirus 2019 Administrative Supplement
Administered in: College of the Liberal Arts
NIH ECHO Website:


Increasing evidence suggests that adverse environmental exposures (like pollutants, toxins, drugs) from pregnancy through age 5 can have life-long consequences on healthy development. We build upon a unique existing “dual-family” adoption design, by drawing from three cohorts of children who have been followed prospectively since birth in the Early Growth and Development Study (EGDS). The EGDS cohorts consist of two types of families: adoptive families in which the child is not genetically related to either rearing parent, and biological families in which the child is genetically related to the rearing parent. Within these families, we have sibling pairs of two types: (1) siblings living apart, in which one sibling was adopted at birth and reared with genetically unrelated parents and the other sibling remained in the biological home and was reared by the biological parent from birth, and (2) siblings living together either in the adoptive home or the biological home. In studies where children are reared by biological parents, it is difficult to differentiate the role of the social environment from that of genetic influences. Our dual-family design addresses this fundamental confound and allows us to isolate early environmental exposures from heritable influences on familial clustering of health problems to investigate the role of early life exposures and the underlying biological mechanisms in childhood health. We have established a reliable research infrastructure, exceptional measurement of the early childhood family social environment, medical records data, DNA and salivary cortisol samples, high retention rates, and reliable and transparent data-sharing methods. We will use our well-established prospective adoption sample to (a) help clarify causal inferences about environmental influences on neurodevelopment and obesity, and (b) explore the unfolding interplay between inherited child characteristics and environmental influences from birth to adolescence.

In the first phase (UG3), we will (1) re-recruit families of 1,000 children from EGDS; (2) generate pilot scale coding of adult medical records, pilot our geocoding system, conduct preliminary analyses, and develop and test a brief measure of social environmental adversity; and (3) collaborate and plan with the ECHO Steering Committee. It is clear that both biological and environmental factors play a role in the unfolding of health disorders beginning very early in development, yet the specific mechanisms and processes that lead to healthy development versus illness are not well understood. When combined with other ECHO pediatric cohorts, the data generated and analyses conducted in the proposed study will lead to improved guidance for future prevention efforts aimed at offsetting inherited risks and maximizing inherited strengths to promote healthy development.

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