The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded more than $4.7 million to a team led by Dr. Catherine Karr, professor of environmental and occupation health at the University of Washington School of Public Health, to investigate how the environment influences neurodevelopment and asthma risk in children.
The grant is part of $157 million in national awards announced last week by the NIH for a multitude of projects under a seven-year initiative called Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO). The ECHO program will study how exposure to a range of environmental factors in early development, from conception through early childhood, influences children and adolescent health.
“Our UW-based PATHWAYS study is a microcosm of the national ECHO program, which capitalizes on collaboration among top scientists and existing research populations,” said Dr. Karr, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine.
The grant money will be distributed over two years and allow the School’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health to oversee the PATHWAYS study—a combined study of more than 3,000 ethnically diverse pregnant mothers and their newborns. The cohorts are in communities across the United States, including Seattle, Yakima, San Francisco, Memphis, Minneapolis and Rochester. The subsequent five years of funding is up for competitive renewal.
“We’ve assembled three successful cohorts of mothers and babies that have been collecting data since the pregnancy period,” Dr. Karr said. “Our study contributes specialty expertise characterizing air pollution and phthalate exposures as well as social factors, such as stress, and examines their influence on child asthma, allergies and neurodevelopment.”
Dr. Karr and the research team will use maternal blood collected during pregnancy and placental tissues collected at birth, as well as air pollution modelling and surveys, to understand the impact of chemical and non-chemical stressors on the developing fetus. Principal investigators include Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana from Seattle Children’s Research Institute, who is also an adjunct associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the School; Dr. Nicole Bush and Dr. Kaja LeWinn from the University of California, San Francisco; and Dr. Fran Tylavsky from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.
“The large and diverse study population and multidisciplinary expertise of PATHWAYS investigators enable us to better understand real-world mixed-exposures scenarios,” Dr. Karr said. “We will examine how these may perturb important biological processes during pregnancy that may result in respiratory and neurodevelopmental problems in childhood.
Other collaborating institutions include Meharry Medical College, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York University, University of Minnesota, University of Pittsburgh, University of Rochester and Vanderbilt University.