Heart health in children will be the focus of three closely synergistic research projects and an integrated multidisciplinary training program that are newly funded by a $3.7 million four-year grant. The center grant, “Early Life Origins of Cardiovascular Health: Healthier, Earlier,” is a partnership between the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Northwestern’s Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences (DevSci), and Northwestern Medicine.
The projects will be led by Bradley Marino, professor of pediatrics and medical social sciences and codirector of research and academic affairs in the Heart Center at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
“Today, ideal cardiovascular health is rare in middle age and that is due to progressive loss that starts in childhood,” says Marino, codirector of the DevSci Neurodevelopmental Resource Core. “Through three closely interrelated studies, we will aim to define a novel paradigm for measuring, monitoring, and modifying cardiovascular health from birth to age 12. This will help us learn how to promote, preserve, and restore ideal heart health for all.”
This award is the first center grant sponsored and supported by DevSci, directed by Laurie Wakschlag, medical social sciences vice chair for scientific and faculty development. On the center grant, Wakschlag will orchestrate collaborative activities that will bridge developmental science, neuroscience, pediatrics, and preventive cardiology.
DevSci’s mission is to motivate and lead transformative science to engender a “healthier, earlier” population — beginning even before birth — and continuing throughout life.
“We have long known that the developmental origins of common diseases of aging begin early in life. But the markers of susceptibility to adult disease in young children have not been discovered,” says Wakschlag, “This 'healthier, earlier' Center advances DevSci’s mission via an innovative, multidisciplinary approach. To transform cardiovascular health promotion and reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease this center will close the ‘0–8 evidence gap’ by generating cardiovascular risk profiles in very young children.”
Heart disease and stroke affect more than 100 million Americans, but these conditions can be prevented by paying more attention to heart health in kids.
Northwestern is one of only four centers selected to participate in the American Heart Association’s Strategically Focused Children’s Research Network, and research by Marino and colleagues will provide evidence for innovative policies, programs, and practices to preserve cardiovascular health in childhood and beyond. The center will be codirected by Donald Lloyd-Jones, senior associate dean for clinical and translational research at Northwestern.
In addition to Marino and Wakschlag, DevSci’s leadership maintain key roles in the new research initiative. The center’s Training Program is led by DevSci’s Codeputy Director Matthew Davis, professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Academic General Pediatrics at Lurie Children’s Hospital.
Norrina Allen, preventive medicine and DevSci Data Science Hub codirector, leads the center’s population study, which is titled “CVH Trajectories from Birth Through Adolescence.” This project will, for the first time, evaluate key potential modifiers of neurodevelopmental health and social and environmental exposure on cardiovascular health trajectories. DevSci Neurodevelopmental Resource Core Codirector Elizabeth Norton, communication sciences and disorders and medical social sciences, is a co-investigator on both the population study and the clinical intervention study, leading the neurodevelopmental assessment and data integration aspects of the study.
The center’s clinical intervention project, titled “Keeping IDeal CVH Family Intervention Trial: KIDFIT” and led by Linda Van Horn, preventive medicine, will evaluate the effect of an antenatal maternal weight control intervention and concurrent childhood dietary intervention on cardiovascular health metrics in children aged 3 to 5.
The center’s basic science project is known as “Characterizing Dynamic Epigenomic CVH Markers in Early Life” and is led by Lifang Hou, preventive medicine. This effort will assess dynamic epigenetic markers of fetal and early life cardiovascular health from birth to 12 years of age overall, and in the context of neurodevelopmental health and social and environmental exposure (in patients in the population study). It will also make assessments in response to the clinical interventions in patients in the clinical intervention study.
The DevSci Institute will host an official launch event on June 29 in Chicago. Click here to RSVP for the event or to receive more information about DevSci.