Researchers leading the Conditions Affecting Neurocognitive Development and Learning in Early Childhood (CANDLE) Study came together with academic and community leaders on May 14 in Memphis to discuss how to leverage scientific evidence to create solutions for children and families in Memphis and Shelby County. CANDLE is an observational, longitudinal cohort research study that looks at factors affecting neurocognitive development in children from before birth to middle childhood.
The meeting brought together leading experts in resilience, including Michael Ungar, PhD, Canada Research Chair in Child, Family and Community Resilience at Dalhousie University, as well as Canadian experts in delivering research findings to the community, with CANDLE investigators from UTHSC, the University California at San Francisco, and Emory University. Community leaders from the Shelby County Health Department, Child Services, and the UTHSC Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth, led by Altha Stewart, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the center, were also in attendance to help decide what results of this research are most relevant to the Memphis and Shelby County community.
“While it is too early to provide results from our research efforts, it is not too early to engage Memphis stakeholders to help us decide how to provide meaningful information to Memphis and Shelby County residents in efforts to build resilience in our community,” Dr. Stewart said. “This study has the potential to make a profound impact on understanding of factors that contribute to children’s health and disease and how we might improve the well-being of all families.”
The need to engage CANDLE participants and Memphis community leaders, as well as clergy, academic experts, etc., in an ongoing dialog of how and what information is most relevant for Memphis and Shelby County families was the highlight of the meeting. The group endorsed forming a steering committee that would reflect the community and culture to guide the process.
“Research shows that the first few years of a child’s life represent a period of significant cognitive and behavioral development,” said Frances A. Tylavsky, DrPh, professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at UTHSC and principal investigator for the study. “Our team is committed to supporting future activities to reach the goal of providing useful information to improve individual, family, and community health, and helping to influence services and government policies.”
The original plan was to follow women participating in the study until their children turned 3 years old. “Support from UTHSC, ancillary studies, and federal funding, however, have allowed us to maintain the cohort and investigate outcomes beyond the initial target of neurodevelopment,” Dr. Tylavsky said. “Now, the study is providing important information on childhood asthma, obesity, and resilience through early adulthood,” .
Offshoot studies from CANDLE, such as those being supported by the Canadian government, are examining stress during pregnancy, its impact upon genetic markers, and whether those marks predict children’s mental health in early childhood and risk for disease throughout childhood. A second focus of Canadian study is to identify prenatal and postnatal protective factors that promote resiliency in the CANDLE children. A major effort of this project is to provide the results of these investigations to the Memphis community in a meaningful way, a primary objective of the meeting.
“We acknowledge that this initial dialogue only touched the surface of historical issues that contribute to health disparities and requires careful evaluation,” Dr. Tylavsky said. “The long-term objective of the CANDLE study is for researchers to have the ability to identify drivers and markers of healthy early-childhood development that will ultimately lead to improvements in health, development, and well-being through interventions and policy enforcement or development for Memphis and Shelby County families.”