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Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children

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Falls Church 3300 Gallows Rd Falls Church, VA 703-776-4002 Directions →

Cracking the Genetic Code

What if, years before symptoms arose, you could tell a mother that her child was at high risk for cancer? And that it could be prevented? At Inova Fairfax Hospital, a one-of-a-kind study hopes to help doctors do just that.

Called the Inova Childhood Longitudinal Cohort Study, the project is spearheaded by John Niederhuber, former director of the National Cancer Institute. He says a key to understanding a child's risk for disease--from asthma to cancer--is in his or her family's genetic code. So Niederhuber and his team are collecting codes--thousands of them.

The first phase of the study, which began in April 2012, will include 2,500 Fairfax County families and will track children from pregnancy through age two. Eventually, researchers hope to expand to 10,000 families and follow children from birth to adolescence.

Participants provide detailed family, social, and medical histories. Niederhuber and his team collect samples during pregnancy, at birth, and throughout the child's first two years. These, along with DNA samples from parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, are used to generate a family's genomic data. "We're trying to be as innovative as we can in studying all aspects," Niederhuber says. "Not just the pure genomics but also trying to relate the genomics to environment, behavior--everything we can think of."

The study will result in a database of more than 20,000 whole genomes, the largest cache in the world, which will be used to identify key risk factors for everything from premature birth to obesity.

Says Niederhuber: "The real driver of investing the time and effort into building this kind of resource is trying to understand the cause of diseases and how we can manage and prevent them."

Read all of the 'Saving Lives with Science' pieces about our 2013-2014 Top Hospitals.

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Posted at 10:19 AM/ET, 01/29/2014
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