Date Published: 27 October 2005

UK & Norwegian studies of Childrens' Health & Medical Conditions

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A pioneering study into children's health based at the Bristol University in England is to link up with a similar project in Norway to share data and help scientists unlock the causes of a range of medical conditions.

The partnership will involve information being shared between the huge Norwegian population health study currently underway and the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), also known as 'Children of the 90s'.

It is hoped that this will help scientists discover more about the causes of conditions such as autism (autism news), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) schizophrenia (schizophrenia news) and diabetes (diabetes news).

The agreement for the joint initiative was due to be signed at the Science Museum in London, in the presence of Crown Prince Haakon of Norway.

It will bring together epidemiologists from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health - currently recruiting for the world's largest parent and baby health study known as MoBa - and Cohort Norway (a cohort of 200,000 adults) with the Children of the 90s team and the UK Biobank project which will start to analyse adult samples from next year.

The Memorandum of Understanding is to be signed by Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, director of epidemiology at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, George Davey Smith, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology in the University's Department of Social Medicine, and Professor Rory Collins, chief executive of UK Biobank.

Professor Davey Smith said:

" While Children of the 90s is the leading birth cohort in the world with extensive data on health, education and development from birth to age 15, the Norwegian cohort will in time be the biggest study in the world that has collected DNA, lifestyle and health information on 100,000 mums, dads and offspring.
_Because they are still recruiting people, the Norwegian birth cohort is behind Bristol in terms of age and the oldest offspring are still aged six.
_ Eventually they hope to have DNA as well as follow-up data on the children's cognitive function, education, health and so on.
_ A collaboration between Bristol and the Norwegian birth cohort makes sense as we can replicate findings in different societies and contribute to MoBa choosing the best measures to take as the children get older.
_ At Bristol, we have a wealth of very detailed data on our children but the Norwegians have the numbers for testing simple associations.
_ Together, we can cover much of the spectrum of what needs to be found out about the determinants of health and growth in childhood

Dr Stoltenberg said:

" MoBa has a unique advantage over other population-based Biobanks looking into child health issues. That is, we are collecting data from the male partner. This is not happening anywhere else on this scale. A mother is only responsible for half the genetic input.
_ Norway's system of personal identification numbers means we can also track disease back to grandparents of the children and possibly the parents, and identify patterns over at least three generations.
_ We will be collecting blood, urine and plasma from the mothers, partner and child.
_ The baby will be tracked regularly - for example - at birth by taking cord samples, and with questionnaires at three months, six months, 18 and 36 months.
_ We extract DNA from fresh blood, another advantage, as extraction from frozen samples is expensive and time-consuming.
_ One of the most exciting projects we are already working on with the MoBa data is to identify the role of viral infections and damage to the central nervous system in genetically liable foetuses and connecting that to the development of autism. We also have a similar project for type 1 diabetes. Our initial findings on this will be published before 2008

The Norwegian study group aims to enlist 100,000 pregnant mothers, their partners and their offspring by 2008 - making it the largest parent and child follow-up study ever. MoBa will collect biological samples and standardised health and exposure data from the mothers, fathers and children at various time intervals and continue for the lifetime of the children. All but two of the maternity hospitals in Norway are participating in the study, recruiting women through the routine mid-pregnancy ultrasound, which practically all women in Norway attend. The overall aim of MoBa is to find causal factors for diseases and thereby lay the groundwork for better prevention and treatment.

Children of the 90s is probably the most comprehensive research project into child health ever undertaken.It began in 1991 and is following 14,000 mothers and children in detail to trace links between their way of life and disease. The children are now aged 12 to 14.

More than 200 scientific research papers have been published already as a result of data collected by ALSPAC and have linked: over-cleanliness and asthma (2002); peanut allergies in children and eczema skin creams using peanut oil (2003); a mother's stress in pregnancy and hyperactivity or behaviour problems in the child; consumption of oily fish during pregnancy and better eyesight in childhood.

Source(s): Bristol University, England (UK)

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