A study that will cost $3.2 billion and last more than two decades to track the health of 100,000 U.S. children from before birth to age 21 will be launched in January, U.S. health officials said on Friday.
The National Children's Study will examine factors behind autism, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, birth defects, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, obesity and other conditions, the U.S. government's National Institutes of Health said.
NIH officials said they hope the study, to be conducted at 105 locations throughout the United States, can help pinpoint early-life influences that affect later development, with the goal of learning new ways to treat or prevent illness.
The study will examine hereditary and environmental factors such as exposure to certain chemicals that affect health.
Researchers will collect genetic and biological samples from people in the study as well as samples from the homes of the women and their babies including air, water, dust and materials used to construct their residences, the NIH said.
Officials said more than $200 million has been spent already and the study is projected to cost $3.2 billion.
"We anticipate that in the long term, what we learn from the study will result in a significant savings in the nation's health care costs," Dr. Duane Alexander, who heads the NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, told reporters.
Pregnant women will enroll in January
The study will begin in January when the University of North Carolina and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York start signing up pregnant women whose babies would then be followed to age 21.
Some of the early findings will be about factors behind pre-term birth, which has become more common in recent years, according to Dr. Peter Scheidt of the NIH, who heads the study.
The first data from the study could be available in 2012 or 2013.
Scheidt said the study also may end up being the largest ever conducted with pregnant women.
The NIH on Friday named 27 institutions that will take part in the study. Nine others had been named previously and a few more are expected to be picked in the future, the NIH said.
The people taking part will be from rural, urban and suburban areas, from all income and educational levels and from all racial groups, the NIH said.