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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

November 2018

Child Health Month highlights environmental research

During October, NIEHS raised visibility of the science through a congressional briefing, grantee meeting, and other events.

NIEHS leadership, scientists, grantees, and others observed Children’s Health Month in October with a congressional briefing, grantee meeting, Twitter chat (see sidebar), and other activities. These events were part of the institute’s effort to raise visibility of environmental health and what many call our nation’s greatest asset, its children.

Raising visibility of the science

Kim Gray speaks Gray set a collegial tone for the centers meeting when she observed that the room felt like a family reunion. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Raising the Visibility of the Science was the theme that guided the annual meeting of NIEHS/EPA Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Centers (CEHC), held Oct. 22-23 at NIEHS.

The partnership between Kimberly Gray, Ph.D., from NIEHS, and Nica Louie, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was praised by Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research. “Part of the reason this program is sustainable is because of the deep working relationship between Kim and Nica,” she said.

Gray asked the centers to describe their work using the new NIEHS translational research framework (TRF). A meeting with lead TRF author Kristi Pettibone, Ph.D., provided an opportunity to review the framework and determine how their accomplishments fit into the template.

Among those with positive reviews for the framework was Todd Whitehead, Ph.D., from the Center for Integrative Research on Childhood Leukemia and the Environment (CIRCLE), at the University of California (UC) at Berkeley. “You see how research works in unexpected ways [by trying to plot the route],” he said.

graphic of text and imagery of man and woman smoking A downloadable infographic from CIRCLE. The package is available in English and Spanish. (Image courtesy of CIRCLE)

Results and resources

Center members shared research findings and strategies for community engagement in various focus areas, such as the effects of early life exposure on growth and development, and how changes in genetic programming may alter risk for obesity.

Several speakers spoke highly of resources available in the impact report of the centers’ first 20 years, with its overview of scientific advances, communication outreach efforts, and a comprehensive reference list.

Opportunities for the rising generation of CEHC scientists, also called early stage investigators (ESI), included several small group poster presentations, where more experienced scientists asked clarifying questions and suggested future directions or alternative methods. A general ESI poster session was well attended.

Julia Schecter Julia Schecter, Ph.D., from Duke University, was one of the early career researchers who presented preliminary research to a small group. She studies early life exposures to tobacco smoke and attention problems. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Lenox)

Clinician awareness needed

Victoria Leonard speaks Leonard said that collaborations between NIEHS/EPA children’s centers and PEHSU achieved more than either group could have working alone. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

An area of common interest among CEHC and Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU), which are co-funded by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and EPA, was clinician education. “This cohort [of medical and nursing students] is hungry for environmental health information,” said Nicholas Newman, D.O., with the PEHSU at the University of Cincinnati.

Victoria Leonard, Ph.D., from UC San Francisco (UCSF) PEHSU agreed. “The theme of prevention is an important theme because there is very little discussion in the clinician community about prevention of cancer,” she said.

One tool for clinician education is A Story of Health, whose primary authors hail from the UCSF PEHSU, ATSDR, and the nonprofit Collaborative on Health and the Environment. The multimedia e-book translates research findings for clinicians, who may receive free continuing education credits through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Ryann Monahan stands before a crowd Ryann Monahan from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign presented strategies for disseminating research by creating social media content. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Translation to social media

More than 50 attendees registered for a social media workshop, developed by a joint CEHC/PEHSU Social Media Workgroup. Participants learned ways to create a social media strategy, distill research papers into social media posts, and measure success.

Susan Lamontagne, from Public Interest Media Group, Inc., shared data that reinforced the need for the workshop. During one study period, news coverage linking developmental health impacts with neurotoxic chemicals was up by 233 percent in traditional news outlets. The number of people reached by those outlets during the same period decreased by 30 percent.

Congressional briefing

Two weeks earlier, an Oct. 10 congressional briefing attracted approximately 70 attendees, according to Nuala Moore, from American Thoracic Society (ATS). Moore co-chairs the Friends of NIEHS. The event was co-hosted by Friends members the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Endocrine Society, Children’s Environmental Health Network, and ATS.

NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., described NIEHS-funded research and programs. “NIEHS helped establish a network of designated WHO [World Health Organization] Collaborating Centres that is working to address children’s environmental health issues at the local, regional, national, and international levels,” she said.

group of participants listening At the congressional briefing, Birnbaum highlighted the Children’s Health Exposure Analysis Resource, which is a centralized network of exposure analysis tools, services, and expertise established by NIEHS to support National Institutes of Health−funded research. (Photo courtesy of Jed Bullock)

Margaret Karagas, Ph.D., described the interdisciplinary nature of the NIEHS-funded Dartmouth Children’s Center. She focused on naturally occurring arsenic, found in water and in food, such as rice cereal for babies, and its effect on immune system development, early life exposures, and epigenetics.

Rebecca Fry, Ph.D., from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, discussed joint efforts between UNC and Duke University to look at water quality and safety issues in North Carolina. She emphasized that the problem of contamination by chemicals, such as per- and polyfluoroakyl substances, are not just local, but national in scope.

“The briefing was one of the most successful briefings the Friends of NIEHS have organized to date,” said Jed Bullock, NIEHS congressional liaison. “The presentations captivated the audience.”

Carolyn Murray and Mike Hatcher speak “If we wait until the child is born, we’ve missed a lot of prevention opportunities,” said Michael Hatcher, Dr.P.H., from ATSDR, explaining why PEHSU expanded to include reproductive health. Panelist Carolyn Murray, M.D., from Dartmouth, listened as he spoke.
Jonggyu Baek presents a poster Jonggyu Baek, Ph.D., from the University of Massachusetts, was one of 10 early stage researchers who presented their studies to small groups during 10-minute presentation and discussion sessions.
Michael Slimak speaks Mike Slimak, Ph.D., from EPA, welcomed participants and shared some of the history of the centers since their formation in 1997.
Group photo of participants The early career researchers paused for a photo op with Birnbaum, back row center, and Gray, back row, far left.
Liam O'Fallon O’Fallon, who directs the CEHC Community Outreach Translation Cores, co-moderated the panel of PEHSU representatives.
Linda Birnbaum speaks at a microphone “The centers were established to better understand environmental factors affecting children’s health … promote multidisciplinary interactions, and provide community outreach,” Birnbaum said at the congressional briefing. Two weeks later, she joined their two-day workshop.
Nica Louie Environmental health scientist Louie, shown with the centers’ impact report, is with the EPA National Center for Environmental Research.
Jose Cordero Jose Cordero, M.D., leads the Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development in Puerto Rico, based at Northeastern University.
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