The Child & Adolescent Health Research Lab (CAHRL) was founded at Indiana University in 2003 under the direction of Dr. E. Lisako J. McKyer, MPH., and was re-established at Texas A&M in 2006. The mission of the CAHRL is to have every child reach their optimal health by creating awareness of child and adolescent health issues through the achievement of four goals:
At the heart of the lab is the child and how outside factors can influence their lives. One of the jobs of the CARHL is to examine and understand how those outside influences can affect a child's later development.
"The child is in the center, surrounded by rings of influence," Dr. McKyer says. "You can't just look at that kid by him or herself. They are in a context controlled by everyone else. There's the family, other relationships outside the family, the school, the community."
Research undertaken by the CAHRL utilizes a socio-ecological approach to understanding and improving child and adolescent health. The focus is on micro and macro factors influencing health outcomes and health behaviors. Micro-level factors include personality, attitude, and knowledge. Macro-level factors include family and friends, neighborhoods, school, and even politics. Because many child and adolescent issues touch the world of politics, the CARHL looks at the possible costs to the health system now and in the future.
CAHRL-affiliated projects use quantitative and qualitative approaches to solving research problems. Quantitative approaches include traditional research designs, and data analyzed using regression models, structural equation models, while qualitative approaches include interviews, focus groups, and other approaches. Dr. McKyer and her staff strive to accomplish three things in regards to health:
The lab's research has been recognized with grant funding from many organizations. CAHRL currently has two grants from the National Institutes of Health, including the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities. Other funding sources include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Texas State Department of Health.
The biggest strength of the CAHRL lies in the staff that will eventually become the next cadre of child health researchers.
"I can't do it by myself and tackle every issue," McKyer says. "I view myself as the drill sergeant in this war. I have six undergrads in my lab, and two of them have decided to go to grad school."
As the next group of health professionals are trained, Dr. McKyer hopes that they will deal with research on children that isn't being done right now. Some future plans include the health consequences of kids with HIV progressing through school, the effects on the "well" siblings who wind up sometimes getting inadvertently ignored by parents when there is a chronically ill (e.g., cystic fibrosis, asthma) child in the home, and the influence of fathers in the health and obesity rates of their children.
The CAHRL staff represents a diverse background of training and experiences, including medicine, nursing, psychology, social work, health education, anthropology and more. They represent all levels of the college experience, from doctoral students to undergraduates. Even more amazing, is the fact that outside of some medical facilities, no other labs in the country are doing the type of work that CAHRL is.
"Every other child health related center is either in medical settings where they focus on a particular health issue, or independent think tanks," McKyer says. "Those that are in academic setting focus on a narrow or specific health condition, not a comprehensive set of health issues as the CAHRL does. So from my last review of what is out there, Texas A&M University's CAHRL is unique."
One of Dr. McKyer's greatest joys involves the participation of her lab staff. It is not uncommon for the students to show off the work they are doing to others.
"What I love seeing is my students love coming to the lab," McKyer says. "And they tell others about it and bring their families. During graduation and the freshman orientation, I had parents come to the lab because their kids brought them there. Who does that? But that makes me feel so good."
In the end, Dr. McKyer isn't concerned about her own legacy; it's all about the work that the CARHL does to help children and adolescents in the future.
"I don't mind being a nerd," McKyer says. "I am not very poised, I don't wear makeup. I don't want to go into administration. And I really don't care if I don't make an earth shattering discovery. My motivation is that I really truly don't want kids to suffer; because kids who suffer become adults with adverse outcomes. What I want my lab to be known for most is not for solving the problem of children's health but rather for training the best researchers who can go out and tackle these problems directly. For my lab to be known as THE place to get the training to fight this battle, I'm cool. That is my measure of the CAHRL's success."
Dr. E. Lisako J. McKyer, MPH, CAHRL Founder & Director, and Asst. Professor – Division of Health
Dr. Christine A. Tisone, MPH, Deputy Director & Research Associate – CAHRL