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Brown to establish child health institute

Joint effort with state government and Rhode Island hospitals, Hassenfeld Institute will launch in early 2016

Updated September, 29, 2015 at 12:15 AM

In a partnership with the Hasbro Children’s Hospital and the Women and Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, the University will establish a new institute to advance children’s health, President Christina Paxson P’19 announced Monday at a joint press conference with Gov. Gina Raimondo.

The new Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute, to launch early in 2016, is funded by a $12.5 million gift to the University from the family of Alan Hassenfeld, former Hasbro Toys chairman and CEO and a former Brown trustee.

The University will fundraise an additional $12.5 million over the next year in order to support a new location and faculty for the institute, Paxson told The Herald.

Examining child health from pregnancy through young adulthood, the institute will focus on three initiatives at the outset: autism; childhood asthma research; and children’s weight, nutrition and fitness.

In addition to University faculty members, other researchers, including those at Bradley and Butler hospitals, will contribute to the institute’s work. Graduate students and undergraduates will also have opportunities to get involved in the institute’s research initiatives, Paxson told The Herald.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity for cross-institutional collaboration to address critical health needs of a vulnerable population,” Paxson said, according to a University press release.

Raimondo said the new partnership “will help spark our state’s comeback, providing opportunities for everyone to make it in Rhode Island.”

While the University has not yet decided upon a specific location for the institute and is considering multiple options, it will likely be housed in the Jewelry District, Paxson told The Herald.

Phyllis Dennery, professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics and pediatrician-in-chief at Hasbro Children’s Hospital; Maureen Phipps, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; and Patrick Vivier, director of general pediatrics and community health at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, will sit on the institute’s executive committee.

“We cannot make progress in education … or in building our economy or fostering the strongest society possible without healthy children,” Hassenfeld said.

“This work has the potential to move the dial on these growing epidemics, which do not discriminate,” he added.

Rhode Island’s small size and stable population present a unique research opportunity.

“We have one children’s hospital, where we admit the majority of children requiring hospitalization,” Dennery said. “We have one maternity hospital for women and infants where three-quarters of all the births from the state of Rhode Island take place, and we have one health department.”

With such localized health care, researchers are able to “assess the impact of the environment, implement new interventions, disseminate new information broadly and deliver consistent care to avoid disparities,” she said.

“In the first year of the Hassenfeld, we will begin to gather healthcare data from all over the state, employing high-tech methods to detect hotspots where children disproportionately suffer from health issues,” Dennery added.

In researching childhood obesity, the institute will study the impact of genetics, maternal health, environmental factors and neighborhood conditions.

The institute will build on the work of the Rhode Island Consortium for Autism Research and Treatment in examining autism spectrum disorders. The initiative will use data from a registry of over 700 families to develop test protocols for “integrating genomic and other biomarker information into autism diagnoses,” according to the press release.

In regards to asthma, researchers will examine genetics, stress and environmental factors in order to trace asthma’s causes and explore treatment options.

By engaging the Rhode Island population in studies with the Hassenfeld Institute, the University can make an impact not only at the state level, but also nationally and globally, Phipps said.


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