NIH's children's health study ends as a $1.2B disaster

After 14 years of work and $1.2 billion in costs with nothing to show for it, the NIH has decided to cut its blockbuster losses on an ambitious but bungled attempt to study environmental influences on children's health.

The National Children's Study had a grand scope in mind, planning to research the impact of "physical, chemical, biological and psychosocial factors" on health by studying 100,000 children from birth to their 21st birthday. But after enrolling only 5,700 children in a pilot study, the NIH concluded that mismanagement and wrangling among the participants in the study had effectively scuttled the effort, according to Nature.

NIH Director Francis Collins

"All kinds of noble efforts were made to try to put this study into a credible space," NIH Director Francis Collins told Nature. But he told a group of advisers that the study had also become "a Christmas tree with every possible ornament placed upon it."

Researchers will stop collecting data from the 5,700 participants, and the 40 centers included in the study will be closed. Just don't call the study dead. Hope lives on.

While an advisory group concluded that the 14-year effort had ended in a snafu, with little chance of providing any kind of meaningful insight into children's health, the advisers also noted that the NIH shouldn't just walk away.

"With the conclusion that the NCS is not feasible as currently outlined, the Working Group emphasizes that the NIH should champion and support new study designs, informed by advances in technology and basic and applied research across multiple disciplines, that could make the original and overall goals of the NCS more achievable, feasible, and affordable," noted their final report on the matter.

So what did $1.2 billion buy? An incomplete study design, an absence of new biological insights, an overly complex sampling design, an unsuitable management and a cumbersome oversight process that slowed things down.

- here's the story from Nature

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