The National Institutes of Health has awarded a $1.5 million grant to the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Mailman School of Public Health as part of a new, seven-year initiative called Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO).
Through the grant, CCCEH investigators will develop, validate, and implement a new biomarker from cord blood that reflects prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), a family of chemicals found in air pollution, in order to predict health risks including obesity and neurodevelopmental problems. As many as 900 children enrolled in CCCEH birth cohorts of mothers and children — a majority of whom are African-American or Latino, and from low-income households — will take part in the research.
“We are excited to be a part of this bold initiative. Our cohorts of mothers and children can extend the value by of the consortium to answer critical questions relating to the role of the early life environment on children’s health,” says Dr. Frederica Perera, Principal Investigator, founding director of CCCEH and professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School. Dr. Julie Herbstman, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School, is also a principal investigator on the grant (award number: UG3OD023290).
In a series of feasibility studies, extensive data on prenatal PAH exposure and DNA methylation in cord blood will be used to develop and validate a novel epigenetic biomarker that will identify newborns who had high prenatal PAH exposure. The PAH-related methylome will then be tested to determine whether it can be used to predict adverse postnatal neurodevelopmental and obesity-related outcomes. Researchers will also assess whether PAH-related structural brain changes are mediating the effect of the PAH-related methylome on neurodevelopmental outcomes. Next, the biomarker will be tested in the larger ECHO cohort to cross-validate and evaluate the prediction models in different populations across the country.
The ECHO program will investigate how exposure to a range of environmental factors in early development — from conception through early childhood — influences the health of children and adolescents. ECHO centers will build the infrastructure and capacity to support multiple, synergistic, longitudinal studies that extend and expand existing cohort studies of mothers and their children.
For example, CCCEH also will participate in the ECHO consortium of 12 asthma cohorts across the United States, comprising up to 7,000 children and young adults. The consortium, whose Columbia component is led by Dr. Rachel Miller, director of Columbia’s Division of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology and Rheumatology, and a professor of medicine (in Pediatrics) and Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School, will take a systems-based approach to identifying associations between early exposure to environmental factors and the development of specific types of asthma or resilience, with the aim of identifying asthma causes.
Additional ECHO studies will investigate the effects of prenatal and early childhood exposure to a variety of other chemicals and non-chemical factors on fetal development and childhood health. Dr. Andrea Baccarelli, chair and Leon Hess Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Mailman, is an investigator in one of the CCCEH studies and will also participate in a multi-site study of 5,000 children to determine how prenatal and early exposure to chemical and non-chemical causes of oxidative stress affect neurodevelopment. Dr. Matthew Perzanowski, associate professor of environmental health sciences and Dr. Virginia Rauh, professor and vice chair of the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at Mailman will collaborate with Sanford Health, Sioux Falls, SD, to investigate the effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol, tobacco, and other substances on neurobehavioral development and asthma. The study will follow 4,400 children from early pregnancy through infancy.