HMH physician awarded $5.6M NIH grant to continue childhood development studies

Dr. Judy Aschner continues her investigations into environmental influences on health and development of children with disabilities   

Alone asia boy in wheelchair having an headache at park

A Hackensack Meridian Health physician-scientist earned a National Institutes of Health grant to research how environmental factors affect children with a variety of disabilities, as part of a major nationwide study.

The two-year, $5.6 million grant to Dr. Judy Aschner and team is part of the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes program, a massive national cohort started seven years ago.

The new funding will continue the long-term ECHO research of Aschner, the Dr. Marvin I. Gottlieb Ph.D. chair of Pediatrics at Hackensack University Medical Center Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, as well as the physician-in-chief for Hackensack Meridian children’s health.

The grant, entitled “Enriching ECHO Cohorts with High-risk Pregnancies and Children with Disabilities (Enriching ECHO)” will advance disability inclusivity in ECHO research by studying children with a spectrum of disabilities, and by leveraging existing data from ECHO participants with disabilities.

The scientific premise of Aschner and her team is that psychosocial environmental exposures (such as social determinants of health, stress, social environment and discrimination) and modifiable personal factors (including parenting style, social supports and mental health) impact the physical and emotional health of children with disabilities.

Aschner and team believe the observations will result in definable outcomes of function, well-being and participation in community and family life.

“Our hypothesis is that we can identify specific environmental factors associated with better-than-expected positive health outcomes along the continuum of disability to typical development,” Aschner said.

Beginning in January 2024, pregnant women will be recruited before the 20th week of gestation from the high-risk obstetric practice at Hackensack University Medical Center and Prentice Women’s Hospital at Northwestern University with seven years of follow up of the women and their children at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at HUMC and Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

Depending on the results of the first two years, the grant could bring further funding for five more years, with a potential total of $32 million over seven years.