ECHO Program Receives Green Light to Begin Expansive Child Health Research

Single institutional review board approves the NIH’s ECHO cohort research to proceed, which promises answers to high-impact research questions related to early influences on child health outcomes.

February 1, 2019

The Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program today announced it has received single institutional review board (sIRB) approval to begin its research under the ECHO-wide Cohort Data Collection Protocol. The purpose of the sIRB is to ensure that research follows guidelines to protect participants. ECHO research will investigate the effects of a broad range of early exposures—including physical, chemical, biological, social, behavioral, natural, and built environments—on child health and development.

“The sIRB approval of the ECHO-wide Cohort Data Collection Protocol gives us the green light to start finding answers to important questions that will enhance the health of children for generations to come,” said ECHO Program Director Matthew Gillman. “We know that a child’s exposures from before birth through the first few years of life are tremendously formative, and yet, until now, child health research in this area has been limited, leaving us with lots of questions. We look forward to turning that tide.”

The ECHO-wide Cohort is made up of more than 70 individual cohorts, or groups, of mothers and children from ongoing research projects. Researchers follow participants through different life stages, some starting before birth and through adolescence. Together, they form a massive virtual “cohort of cohorts” that includes more than 50,000 children from diverse backgrounds across the United States. By bringing together data collected under a single protocol, ECHO researchers can answer high-impact, complex research questions.

Looking at the whole child

ECHO’s promise is not only in its breadth of data, but also its approach, which brings together multiple disciplines to address child health. Historically, many research projects have looked at children through a single, narrow lens. However, the body’s development process includes millions of interacting factors that all play a part in a child’s overall health. Researchers from 44 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia are involved in the ECHO-wide Cohort Data Collection Protocol. These researchers bring expertise from hundreds of disciplines. As a result, knowledge from ECHO research can offer a richer understanding of child health and development to help guide a healthier, happier childhood for our nation’s children.

Emily Oken, of Harvard University and the principal investigator for an ECHO Pediatric Cohort Award, and David Cella, of Northwestern University and one of the principal investigators for the ECHO Person-Reported Outcomes Core, led the trans-disciplinary development of the ECHO-wide Cohort Data Collection Protocol. They worked collaboratively with all ECHO components and gathered input through a public comment period. The research will include participants that are often excluded from traditional research, such as pregnant women, children, and caregivers. ECHO’s researchers hope that this wide view of the child will shed light on important patterns and trends in child health that have not been captured to date.

“It was a Herculean effort to develop a protocol of this scale with so many interacting variables,” said Gillman. “Through collaboration and a shared passion to enhance the health of all children, we are now positioned to begin this important work. Our team is energized and ready to go, and our nation’s children are waiting.”