LCRN – A Profound New Way to Understand Health

By Neal Halfon, MD, MPH and Ericka Tullis, MPP
Life Course Research Network

In October 2010, the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities was awarded a three-year grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) to develop the MCH Life Course Research Network (LCRN). This project represents an exciting and unique opportunity to improve our understanding of how health develops over the life span.

LCRN is a virtual collaborative network of researchers, service providers and thought leaders committed to improving health and reducing disease by advancing life course health development research. LCRN brings together diverse expertise and perspectives to examine the origins and development of health, and to inform meaningful and evidence-based changes in practice, systems and policies affecting children and families. The specific goals of LCRN are to:

  1. Identify gaps in what we know about how health develops among individuals and populations
  2. Develop and support the implementation of a research agenda that can fill those gaps
  3. Promote methodologies and data that provide researchers with better tools and information
  4. Illuminate clinical, programmatic and policy changes that translate new knowledge into better health

As a network, LCRN provides its members with a mechanism for interacting, sharing information and engaging in collaborative and innovative projects. These projects are initiated and led by network members, with administrative support provided by LCRN staff.

In addition to supporting member-driven projects, LCRN staff undertake their own strategic efforts to advance the field of life course health development research. To date, such efforts have included:

  1. Creating a webinar series that examines the state of life course health development research through presentations by national and international experts
  2. Publishing a series of expert interviews regarding the design of the LCRN and the challenges and opportunities of life course health development research
  3. Authoring a variety of peer-reviewed publications related to the origins and development of health and disease
  4. Building a state-of-the-art website and social network where LCRN members can connect, exchange ideas and materials, and access resources, including event announcements, webinars, publications and links

Presently, LCRN staff are planning for the MCH Life Course Research Agenda-Setting Conference, which will take place in fall of 2012. This conference will bring together a diverse group of life course stakeholders in a consensus-based process aimed at developing an MCH life course research agenda and prioritizing among potential future research questions and directions. To inform and frame the meeting, LCRN has commissioned a comprehensive set of approximately 20 background papers, many of which are being developed through an innovative wiki-based "swarming" process that engages a relatively large and diverse group of authors.

Each of the background papers will synthesize existing life course health development research, identify research gaps and recommend priorities. Following the meeting, the research agenda, the background papers and a set of related commentaries will be disseminated to a wide audience using multiple modalities, potentially including peer-reviewed and/or online publication.

Membership in LCRN is free and open. The benefits of membership include:

  1. An opportunity to build relationships with national and international experts in medicine, public health, psychology, sociology, education, social work and economics, among other disciplines
  2. Timely access to new tools and methodologies as they are developed
  3. Eligibility for a small number of LCRN seed grants
  4. The chance to help facilitate a paradigm shift in how we think about health promotion and disease prevention

To join the LCRN, please visit their website. As of Jun. 15, the new website for LCRN will be: lcrn.net.

The LCRN is made possible by funding from HRSA-MCHB through cooperative agreement #UA6MC19803.

Neal Halfon is Principal Investigator for the LCRN, Director of the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities, and Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics, Health Sciences and Policy Studies at UCLA.

Ericka Tullis is Project Manager for the LCRN and Policy Analyst at the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities.