University of South Florida Nursing’s professor, Maureen Groer, PhD recently received funding to extend her research on preterm infants and the microbiome of their digestive system. This research grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) is part of a $150 million program called Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO). The focus of ECHO is to allow researchers to study the impact that environmental influences have on children by extending and expanding existing studies on mothers and their children. It will involve 50,000 children the across the United States.
Of this new research award, Dr. Groer states, “The ECHO grant gives us the opportunity to look at pre-term babies and their microbiome, neurodevelopment and school readiness.” The additional funding will allow Dr. Groer and her team to add the environmental component to an ongoing study. They will examine factors such as where the children live, who they live with, where they go to school, their household income, and the form of childcare they receive. According to Dr. Groer, these factors may influence the risk of neurodevelopmental abnormalities.
“We’re making a claim that a huge part of neurodevelopment is the environment,” said Dr. Groer. “So, when children turn 5 years old, they will go through neurodevelopmental tests to determine how ready they are for school.”
(A preterm infant. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
For this project Dr. Groer will partner with Dr. Akhil Masheshwari, professor at the Morsani College of Medicine. They are sub-awardees through the University of Chicago, along with other pediatric researchers at the University of California and Harvard. The first phase of the award will fund their research for two years. Then they’ll be eligible for five more years of funding to study preterm born children as they enter school.
This award continues an ongoing study that began in 2015, when Dr. Groer received $2.7 million from NIH’s National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) to measure and evaluate preterm babies’ development, health and growth over time. In an article for USF’s Nursing News, Dr. Groer explained that, “Our research is unique because we’re studying preterm infants. These children are vulnerable. They’re immature and have abnormalities. Previous research shows that the gut microbiome has a direct relationship with brain neurochemistry, behavior, metabolism and the development of the immune system.”
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