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
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.
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.
Clinician awareness needed
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).
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.
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.
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.”