Saturday, April 11, 2009

Three Cheers for Government Research

By Richard P. Holm MD

It was 1948, in Framingham, Massachusetts, when more than 5,000 people were first questioned about lifestyle, physically examined and blood tested. It was the beginning of the Framingham Heart Study, a government funded project, which has continued to this day. Every two years these same individuals are very carefully re-studied. In 1971 their children were added to the study, and in 2002 their grandchildren were entered.

Prior to this time little was known about the general causes for heart disease and stroke. In 1948, the rates of these conditions had been increasing steadily since the beginning of the century. How much is related to environmental factors and how much is inherited were the questions? Is it nurture or nature, and what can we do to make things better?

Over the years we have learned a lot from the Framingham data and we continue to discover from this large investigation why people develop heart disease and related conditions.

Now a similar survey called the National Childrens Study (NCS) is about to begin. The scope and diversity of the people in this research program is so much broader than from Framingham, however. It will involve 100,000 children, from representative counties all across the US, including right here in Brookings county. The NCS will follow these children from even before they are conceived until age 21.

It is important to note that, like in Framingham, no special interest group, such as the Pharmaceutical Industry or Medical Testing Industry, financially sponsors the NCS. Our government, specifically the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is the fiscal supporter for this splendid and colossal effort.

I believe that our government should be much more involved in sponsoring research like the NCS and the Framingham Study; since industry sponsored studies, although important, have an inherent bias.

It is with the gathering of such information that we may finally learn what causes conditions like obesity, asthma, autism; or what influences intellect or mental health. Is it nurture or nature, and what can we do to make things better?

No comments: