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Environmental Factor, September 2012

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Environmental epidemiology group honors Eskenazi and Lanphear

By Eddy Ball

Brenda Eskenazi, Ph.D.

In March 2010, Eskenazi gave a presentation in the NIEHS Distinguished Lecture series (see story), speaking on "Organophosphate Pesticide Exposure and the Development of Children Living in an Agricultural Community: Results of the CHAMACOS Study" to a capacity audience. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Bruce Lanphear, M.D.

NIEHS has called upon Lanphear’s expertise a number of times. Most recently, he was a member of the independent expert panel review for the Draft NTP Monograph on Health Effects of Low-level Lead (see story) in November 2011, and a keynote speaker at the Data Sharing Strategies for Environmental Health Science Research Workshop (see story) in March 2012. (Photo courtesy of University of Cincinnati)

NIEHS grantees Brenda Eskenazi, Ph.D., and Bruce Lanphear, M.D., took top honors at the 24th Annual Conference of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) Aug. 26-30 in Columbia, S.C.

During an awards plenary Aug. 29, members honored Lanphear with the ISEE Research Integrity Award and Eskenazi with the ISEE John Goldsmith Award for Outstanding Contributions to Environmental Epidemiology, the highest awards that ISEE gives to scientists in the field of environmental epidemiology. Eskenazi and Lanphear gave talks on their research as a part of the ceremony.

Eskenazi and Lanphear have worked for many years at the intersection of public health and environmental justice — Lanphear with inner city children exposed to lead in the environment, and Eskenazi with families exposed at work and at home to endocrine disrupting chemicals used in pesticides and flame retardants.

"These scientists are an important part of the fabric of NIEHS," said Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training. "We have made a major, decades-long investment in their work, and it's wonderful to see the value of their contributions to the field recognized by an organization of the stature of ISEE."

On the front lines of environmental public health

Eskenazi is a professor in the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) School of Public Health Division of Epidemiology. She is chair of the UCB Maternal and Child Health Program, director of the Children’s Center for Environmental Health, and lead researcher in the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS) longitudinal birth cohort study examining chemicals and other factors in the environment, and children’s health.

Eskenazi was a pioneer in environmental health research when she entered the field in the late 1970s. In the 30 years of research that followed, she has studied a host of environment exposures, including cigarette smoke, caffeine, and chemotherapy to pesticides and flame retardants. She and her group have looked for effects on the human brain, child development, and reproductive health. Translating their research, she and her colleagues have worked to advance children’s health in agricultural, residential, and daycare settings throughout California.

“Brenda’s research marries molecular analysis with epidemiology, and she takes her work a step further by translating the findings into interventions to help protect the health of children and their families,” said Collman, describing her longtime colleague.

Following more than a decade with the Cincinnati Children’s Environmental Health Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Lanphear moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, to focus on the intersection between epidemiology and public health policy. He was appointed in 2008 as a professor at Simon Fraser University, where he continues his research examining fetal and early childhood exposures to widespread environmental neurotoxins including lead, pesticides, mercury, alcohol, PCBs, and environmental tobacco smoke. He also serves as a senior scientist at the Child and Family Research Institute of the British Columbia Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.

An outspoken crusader for children’s health, Lanphear has testified before state and federal committees, and served as a spokesperson for advocacy groups. In the course of pursuing his goal of a safer environment, he has been criticized by opponents and had his data subpoenaed in attempts to discredit his findings. “There have been times when essentially everybody would like to put me in the closet and lock the door,” Lanphear lamented in a 2011 interview.

“Bruce is both an outstanding scientist and an outspoken advocate, whose work has been very influential in efforts to limit children’s exposure to lead,” Collman said. “He has taken significant personal and professional risks to protect the integrity and confidentiality of his research.”

ISEE is an international organization with members from more than 55 countries and regional chapters, as well as local groups in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, South Asia, and East Asia.

Topics addressed by ISEE members include environmental exposures, health outcomes, methodology, environment-gene interactions, and ethics and law.

An international forum dedicated to discovering ways to protect children from environmental hazards

Meeting Aug. 28 at the ISEE annual conference were members of the multidisciplinary International Society for Children’s Health and the Environment (ISCHE), which was founded in 2010 with an international membership that includes founders Lanphear and Eskenazi. As the organization grows, it meets annually as part of ISEE, and this year, it also sponsored a preconference ISEE Workshop on Assessment of Neurobehavioral Effects of Environmental Exposures on Children moderated by Lynn Goldman, M.D., and Mark Miller, M.D.

Following the ISCHE meeting, Eskenazi and Lanphear faced off in a debate that was scheduled prior to the announcement of their awards titled “Controversies in Children’s Health and the Environment: Should Organophosphate Insecticide Use Be Restricted and Organic Diets Promoted?”

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