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NYU Gets $65M for Research on Environmental Influences on Children's Health
New York Ag Connection - 09/13/2018

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded New York University nearly $66 million over the next five years to study how exposure to environmental factors influences children's health. This new funding is an extension of a previous award of nearly $15 million over the last two years.

The awards are part of a seven-year NIH initiative called Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes(ECHO), which investigates how a range of environmental factors in early development -- from conception through early childhood -- affects the health and development of children and adolescents.

Experiences during sensitive developmental windows, including around the time of conception, later in pregnancy, and during infancy and early childhood, can have long-lasting effects on the health of children. These experiences encompass a broad range of exposures, from air pollution and chemicals in our neighborhoods, to societal factors such as stress, to individual behaviors like sleep and diet.The ECHO grants will continue to support multiple longitudinal studies -- including those led by two NYU researchers -- that extend and expand existing studies of mothers and their children.

NYU Steinhardt Study Investigates How Stress and Chemical Exposures Influence Brain Development and Obesity Over the next five years, in annual amounts of about $5.14 million from ECHO, Clancy Blair, professor of applied psychology at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, will build upon his teams' past two years of ECHO-funded research and past 15 years of NIH-funded research to conduct the Family Life Project (FLP). Blair's work investigates ways in which adverse environmental exposures early in life -- psychosocial as well as chemical --affect children and their families.

The large, longitudinal study follows a sample of 1,292 children and their families, who live in and around small towns in Pennsylvania and North Carolina in counties with high poverty rates. The Family Life Project began following the children and their families when the children were born in 2003-2004.

The researchers have gathered a wealth of information at regular intervals since the children's births, including home visit questionnaires and interviews, school data, health records, and blood and saliva samples to look at stress, immune function, and other biological markers. A main focus of the project thus far has looked at how stress early in life, such as violence in the home, affects children's brain development in the areas of self-regulation, ADHD, and learning disability. With ECHO funding over the past two years, this research has been expanded in a number of ways. Blair and his collaborators have linked previously collected GPS data to EPA and Census data to quantify and evaluate exposure to toxicants and pollutants, have documented environmental exposure to chemicals, including tobacco smoke and lead, have sequenced the genome of participating children and mothers, and have expanded their original focus on brain development to look at obesity risk.

From research done within the last two years, Blair and the FLP Investigators have submitted five manuscripts and are in the process of completing 15 manuscripts for submission and publication in top-tier peer reviewed journals across areas of public health, toxicology, and developmental science.

Over the next five years, participating children and families will be seen twice for data collection in which a variety of direct assessment, questionnaire, and biospecimen data will be collected.

Blair is excited about the opportunity to continue to follow the FLP sample. "Large longitudinal cohorts like the FLP that have been followed from birth through adolescence are rare and a unique scientific resource," said Blair. "I am grateful that my collaborators and I have the opportunity to contribute to the overarching goal of the ECHO to safeguard the health of our nation's children." The FLP is a partnership between NYU, the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Pennsylvania State University. More information about FLP is available at https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/ihdsc/flp.

The ECHO grant will be administered by NYU's Institute of Human Development and Social Change.NYU Langone Research Examines Influence of Chemicals on Obesity, Metabolic Conditions

Leonardo Trasande, associate professor in pediatrics, environmental medicine, and population health at NYU School of Medicine, will receive $8 million each year for the next five years to continue studying the short- and long-term dangers of chemical contaminants to infant and child development.

Exposure to chemicals, including phthalates, bisphenols, and pesticides, have been linked to cardiovascular and renal risks. However, most studies of child development and the environment have been small and incremental, focusing on small populations, considering one factor at a time rather than the interaction between several, or only following children for a brief period of time.

As part of the ECHO-funded NYU Pediatric Obesity Metabolism and Kidney Cohort Center, NYU School of Medicine, in partnerships with multiple other institutions, will examine two large birth cohorts to inform our understanding of early life environmental impacts on child health and development.

The cohorts--eventually comprising a total of 2,700 births--are the NYU Children's Environmental Health Study and the Infant Development and Environment Study. ECHO funding will extend the duration of time children are followed in each cohort, ranging from 2 to 9 years. Researchers will examine how chemicals contribute to disability and disease, including obesity, heart disease, and such metabolic conditions as insulin resistance, loss of kidney function, and uncontrolled blood pressure.

"We are delighted to continue our leadership in children's environmental health through the ECHO program. Our studies will go far to identify the impacts of chemical as well as other environmental factors on child development. The ECHO program will develop a roadmap for communities, families and government officials to ensure a healthy future for America's children," said Trasande, who also holds appointments in NYU's Wagner School of Public Service and NYU College of Global Public Health.

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