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Environmental Factor, October 2015

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NIEHS leads at international epidemiology conference

By Virginia Guidry

isee Logo
Headshot of Gwen Collman

Collman co-chaired a session on gene-environment interactions, which featured research from Taiwan, Canada, South Korea, and the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Headshot of Aubrey Miller

Miller participated in sessions about the evolving National Institutes of Health Disaster Response Research Program, led by NIEHS, and the health response to naturally occurring asbestos and erionite. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Headshot of Kimberly Gray

Gray participated in a professional development session on grant preparation, with the ISEE Student and New Researcher Network. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS scientists and grantees made key contributions at the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) 27th annual meeting, Aug. 30-Sept. 3 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Organizers held the meeting in South America to highlight environmental health needs in developing countries, with the theme of Addressing Environmental Health Inequalities.  

Environmental epidemiologists and exposure scientists gather each year at the ISEE conference to discuss the latest research on how the environment can help or harm people’s health, and how best to measure these changes. Policy implications of recent findings are also considered. This year’s key topics included air pollution, climate change, and access to green space.

“The annual ISEE meeting is an important opportunity for NIEHS scientists and program staff to discuss new research directions with other environmental health scientists, especially since environmental epidemiology makes up a large part of NIEHS-funded research,” said Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.

Health benefits of green space as an emerging topic

Attendees noted the number of scientific presentations that explored the ways that access to green space, such as parks and urban gardens, can improve health. Presenters pointed out that a growing body of literature shows that living near nature and green space benefits cardiovascular health, mental health, obesity, allergies, asthma, neurodevelopment, and birth weight.

NIEHS grantee Patrick Ryan, Ph.D., from the University of Cincinnati, presented new findings about the impact of residential green space on children’s respiratory health. He said such green space may reduce the contribution that childhood exposure to traffic-related air pollution makes to asthma development.

“The green space research provided a new interpretation of the built environment,” said Kimberly Gray, Ph.D., NIEHS health scientist administrator. “It highlighted how important it is to consider, and measure, the impact of green spaces, tree canopy, and the outdoor features that can impact people’s health, or even offset the harmful effects of toxicants in someone’s environment.” 

NIEHS council member recognized for contributions to environmental epidemiology

Howard Hu, M.D., Sc.D., an outgoing member of the NIEHS advisory council, received the John Goldsmith Award for Outstanding Contributions to Environmental Epidemiology at the meeting. Now the dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, Hu has spent his career investigating environmental contributions to chronic disease and its impacts on child development around the world.

After receiving his award, Hu spoke on “Big Data, Environmental and Social Epidemiology, Power and Politics.” He explored the use of big data for epidemiology studies and noted some of the challenges. For example, he said, existing data sources cannot adequately characterize individual environmental exposure levels. Furthermore, marginalized populations are often excluded from existing databases, which might perpetuate health inequities. 

Wide participation from NIEHS

Staff from NIEHS chaired scientific sessions, shared new research findings, and participated in professional development sessions with the ISEE Student and New Researcher Network. Collman chaired a scientific session about gene-environment interactions. Claudia Thompson, Ph.D., chief of the Population Health Branch, chaired a session about indoor air and human health.

Several presentations informed the scientific community about ongoing NIEHS-led efforts. David Balshaw, Ph.D., chief of the Exposome, Response, and Technology Branch, led a poster presentation about the newly funded Children's Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR). Larry Engel, Ph.D., an associate researcher in the Epidemiology Branch, provided information from the GuLF STUDY (Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study) regarding cardiovascular findings. Caroline Dilworth, Ph.D., NIEHS health scientist administrator, presented recommendations from the recent NIEHS-hosted workshop on statistical methods for analyzing exposures to environmental chemical mixtures. The recommendations were prepared by NIEHS scientists and grantees.

“The scientific discussions at ISEE are essential for keeping up with the most current scientific findings and moving both research methods and the practice of environmental epidemiology forward,” said Aubrey Miller, M.D., NIEHS senior medical advisor, who gave two presentations at the meeting.

The next ISEE conference will be held September 1-4, 2016, in Rome, Italy.

(Virginia Guidry, Ph.D., is a technical writer and public information specialist in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

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