Delaware Health Sciences Alliance awards two pilot projects
Pictured are members of the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance pilot project on childhood obesity. They are, from left, front row, Michael Peterson, Samuel Gidding and David West, and, back row, Kristin Maiden, Judith Ross, Dr. Deborah Ehrenthal and Louis Bartoshesky. Photo by Doug Baker
Stuart Binder-MacLeod

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10:52 a.m., Nov. 22, 2010----The Delaware Health Sciences Alliance (DHSA) has awarded grants to two collaborative pilot projects, both focusing on children's health.

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One group of researchers will develop novel approaches to studying determinants of childhood obesity, and the other will explore the relationships between brain activity and exercise interventions in children with cerebral palsy.

A coalition comprising Christiana Care Health System (CCHS), Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children (Nemours), Thomas Jefferson University (TJU), and the University of Delaware (UD), DHSA was established in 2009 to improve health and healthcare services in Delaware.

“It's appropriate that the alliance is supporting research on the health of the youngest members of our society,” said Kathleen Matt, executive director of DHSA and dean of the UD College of Health Sciences. “We're also holding a conference on women's and children's health next month because we view this as a critically important area of research and practice.”

Childhood obesity project

Nearly 40 percent of Delaware youth are overweight or obese as the result of a complex interplay of genetic, behavioral, environmental, and health system factors acting over time.

Led by Dr. Deborah Ehrenthal, a clinician and researcher from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Christiana Center for Outcomes Research at CCHS, the childhood obesity project will create a longitudinal cohort of mother-baby pairs using clinical data gathered from mothers before and during pregnancy and from their children from birth to age three.

Data of interest include medical diagnoses such as diabetes, pre-pregnancy obesity, pregnancy weight gain, and breast-feeding, as well as baby's gestational age, birth weight and growth pattern.

“There is evidence that the tendency to become obese as an adult develops very early, perhaps before birth,” Ehrenthal says. “An understanding of early predictors of obesity will help guide the development of interventions designed to reduce obesity and to improve the outcomes of those affected.”

Ehrenthal's collaborators on the project are Kristin Maiden (CCHS); Judith Ross (TJU); Samuel Gidding, David West and Louis Bartoshesky (Nemours); and Benjamin Carterette and Michael Peterson (UD).

Cerebral palsy project

Cerebral palsy is the most prevalent neurological diagnosis in children, with about 9,750 new cases each year in the U.S. Individuals with CP have diverse clinical impairments that can lead to decreased independence, physical activity and quality of life.

Led by Stuart Binder-MacLeod, Edward L. Ratledge Professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy at UD, the researchers on this team will focus on elucidating the relationships between the neural correlates of CP and functional ability.

They will use a non-invasive, cost-effective, and quick procedure known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) as an adjunct to neuro-imaging and clinical data to obtain information about brain function in CP, which occurs in approximately one in 500 live births.

The overall goal is to collect pilot data for a future larger-scale research project to understand how different cortical organization patterns following CP are related to motor function and how these relationships change with exercise intervention.

Binder-MacLeod is collaborating with Samuel Lee and Trisha Kesar (UD), Freeman Miller (Nemours), Susan Duff (TJU), and Kert Anzilotti (CCHS) on the project.

Background on DHSA pilot grants

DHSA pilot grants provide up to $75,000 for projects ranging from 12 to 18 months. Projects are selected based on scientific merit, the potential to lead to a larger proposal for NIH funding, and the ability of the research team, which must include at least one investigator from each member institution, to demonstrate successful collaboration among the four institutions.

The four projects funded during the first two rounds of competition focus on cancer, cardiovascular studies, and creation of a bioinformatics framework to facilitate translational research among the alliance members.

The next DHSA call for proposals will be made in February 2011.

For more information on pilot grant funding as well as the conference on women's and children's health, to be held at UD on Thursday, Dec. 9, visit the DHSA website.

Article by Diane Kukich

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