U.S. Child Study Canceled After $1.3 Billion

The U.S. government canceled one of its most ambitious health research projects, an effort to follow 100,000 children from before birth through adolescence, after spending about $1.3 billion since 2007 without it ever really getting off the ground.

Run by the National Institutes of Health, the study was to collect data on child health and development in the hope of discovering insights into autism and other maladies.

Administrative difficulties and the project’s spiraling costs alarmed NIH Director Francis Collins, who ordered an evaluation of the study after the National Academy of Sciences raised concerns in a June 16 report.

The project was authorized by Congress in 2000 yet never got past a small pilot study to test research methods. The study “as currently designed is not feasible,” Collins said in a Dec. 12 statement on the NIH’s website.

About $1.3 billion was poured into the project since 2007, though “the impact of this funding is unclear,” according to the internal NIH evaluation. Collins put the study on hold in June before announcing its cancellation last week.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, one of many children’s health advocacy groups that had backed the research plan, called the decision “disappointing.”

“We recognize, however, the significant challenges the study faced in a time of constrained public resources,” the group’s president, James Perrin, said in a statement.

Congress cut the budget for the NIH, the largest single source of financing for biomedical research in the world, from a high of $31.2 billion in the 2010 fiscal year to $29.3 billion in 2013. The cuts stoked outrage among scientists, who warned that lawmakers jeopardized future advances in medicine.

The budget increased by about a billion dollars in 2014 to $30.2 billion. Congress provided about a $150 million increase for fiscal 2015 in legislation the Senate sent to President Barack Obama on Dec. 13.

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