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April 23, 2018

NIH funds research consortium to address firearm deaths among U.S. children and teens

More than 20 researchers at 12 universities and health systems across the nation are working to address firearm deaths among U.S. children and teens with a recent $5 million grant.

The grant was awarded to the University of Michigan from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The award represents the largest NIH funding commitment in the past 20 years to reduce firearm injury.

April Zeoli, associate professor in Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice and consultant on the grant, is leading the policy analysis team and investigating the role of policy interventions in reducing fatal and non-fatal firearm injuries among U.S. children and teens.

“Federal and state-level laws exist that aim to reduce firearm violence and injury among children and teens,” Zeoli said. “It’s important to critically evaluate these policies to learn whether they are having their intended effect.”

The new consortium brings together experts from many fields, including scientists from public health, adult and pediatric emergency medicine, pediatrics, criminal justice, psychiatry, psychology, data science and trauma surgery.  

The five-year effort allows the collaborators, along with stakeholder partners, to form a consortium on research on the subject and fill a critical knowledge gap.

This gap is what led Rebecca Cunningham, U-M professor of emergency medicine and associate vice president for research-health sciences; Marc Zimmerman, U-M professor of public health; and Patrick Carter, U-M assistant professor of emergency medicine and part of the consortium leadership team, to seek funding to jump-start this field of pediatric and adolescent research. 

Known as the Firearm-safety Among Children and Teens Consortium, or FACTS, the consortium is made up of faculty from MSU, U-M, Rhode Island Hospital/Brown University, University of Washington, Arizona State School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Columbia University, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Medical College of Wisconsin, University of Pennsylvania, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago/Northwestern University and Children’s National Health System.

“FACTS will facilitate research that will help develop a greater understanding of what policy interventions work to reduce fatal and non-fatal firearm injuries among U.S. children and teens,” Zeoli said. “In doing so, it will also help train the next generation of scientists eager to study the impact of policy on pediatric firearm injuries.” 

Stakeholder groups will be an important asset to the academic conversation and will include gun owners and firearm safety trainers, educators and law enforcement partners, including teachers, parent groups and hunting and sports enthusiasts.

“Having a stakeholder group that has a wide variety of political views and is providing input along the way will be invaluable to our joint goals of preventing firearm injury and death among children,” Zimmerman said.

The grant will create six resources to stimulate the research field of firearm safety among children and adolescents.

First, the group is creating a research agenda for the field of firearm injury specific to pediatrics that will be published this fall — something the group says is absent in the United States.

The second resource is the completion of five small projects in some of the areas within the field of firearm-related injury that are needed to generate preliminary data that can be expanded into large investigations. The topics for the projects will be determined during the investigation of gaps in the field, but will include a focus across the spectrum of epidemiology and prevention and an investigation on needs and practices following youth involvement in firearm violence.

The consortium will create a data archive on childhood firearm injury. It will also train a cadre of new researchers, including postdoctoral trainees and graduate students, focused in this research area, as well as provide a webinar series to educate researchers on this topic of injury science.

The consortium began its work in late 2017 and is optimistic for the coming months.

“The FACTS team of scientists is meeting and working together regularly,” Cunningham said. “We’re looking forward to this fall when the pediatric specific research agenda will be complete and the core research projects will kick off.”

By: April Zeoli

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