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Published in CenterView on August 27, 2012

Restructuring severs National Children’s Study’s ties to UMMC

By Jack Mazurak

Federal-level restructuring of the National Children’s Study will end the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s involvement, meaning the loss of 53 local jobs and non-renewal of a five-year $12.8 million research contract that ends next month.

The restructuring, announced by the National Institutes of Health, changes the study’s enrollment and management model. Instead of using health-research and community-outreach teams at medical centers around the country to enroll and monitor participants in their local areas, the NIH will centralize and contract those duties to four regional operating centers, likely operated by large research corporations.

It is yet unclear Whether recruitment from 105 counties originally identified to form a nationally representative sample of children in the U.S. will continue for the main study.

The Medical Center’s five-year contract to operate the Hinds County Vanguard Study site ends Sept. 27. The Vanguard Study, a sort of pilot to identify best practices and alternate methods for the main study, involved recruitment at 40 locations, including Hinds County.

The Hinds County portion of the NCS Vanguard Study will continue tracking the progress of approximately 100 mothers and children already enrolled locally. However, through the next 21 years, the tracking will be contracted to a regional operating center yet to be announced.

The NCS main study aims to follow more than 100,000 children from before birth to age 21 with regular checkups, scans, questionnaires and interviews. By examining the effects of the environment on the children’s growth and development, researchers hope to improve the health and well-being of children for generations to come.

Sharon Wyatt“This was intended to be the ultimate study of children nationally, something never done before in our country,” said Dr. Sharon Wyatt, NCS Hinds County location principal investigator. “The 40 Principal Investigators for the Vanguard Centers remain hopeful that the final protocol will yield meaningful data.”

Wyatt said 100 or so mothers and babies enrolled locally in the vanguard are an important part of the main study, and it needs their involvement.

“The Vanguard Study informs everything that happens in the main study,” said Wyatt, professor of medicine and nursing. “It shows us how to effectively collect data, keep in touch with participants and their families, what to ask and so on.

“They will continue to be followed for 21 years, but a transition in contractors will occur.”

With approximately 4,000 families participating in the Vanguard Study nationally, each regional operating center will cover about 1,000 families.

Enrolling expecting and would-be mothers into the study took relationship building, trust and a personal touch. With the contract ending, those intimate connections woven with area communities are lost.

“The big-box research companies can’t have these kinds of personal relationships with people in the communities,” Wyatt said.

As of August, 13 subcontractors and four people from Wyatt’s team had been laid off. Many found positions at UMMC or in other state agencies, but several are still seeking positions.

“At the outset, the expectation of the contract was that the NIH would keep renewing the study contract every five years through the 21-year life of the study,” Wyatt said. “We were very successful in all areas and were very well respected, both regionally and nationally.

“We met the goals of the first phase of the study and had positive support.”
   
Wyatt said her group plans to donate its 10 federally purchased desktop computers and 25 tablets to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Mississippi.