U-M given $9.5M to advance research on child health

September 28, 2015
Written By:
Laurel Thomas

ANN ARBOR—The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded $9.5M to the University of Michigan to study the impact of the environment on children’s health.

U-M will serve as one of six national research hubs over the next four years as part of the new NIEHS Children’s Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR) Program.

Through the Michigan hub of the CHEAR Laboratory Network (M-CHEAR), announced by NIH today, U-M will support scientists across the country whose research focuses on the causes of adverse child health such as preterm birth, reproductive tract anomalies, obesity, asthma/allergies, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism and early onset of puberty.

“Our own research and that of colleagues around the world have produced mounting evidence and concern that the environment may profoundly impact child health and development,” said M-CHEAR Director John Meeker, professor of environmental health sciences and associate dean for research at the U-M School of Public Health.

“The primary objective of M-CHEAR is to contribute large-scale national efforts to advance knowledge of the impact of the environment on child health by offering high-quality, state-of-the-art laboratory support for researchers conducting epidemiology and clinical studies of child health.”

Environmental factors like poverty, malnutrition, maternal smoking and drinking, and lead exposure long have been known to adversely affect children’s health, Meeker and colleagues wrote in their proposal. But research is still in its infancy on other commonly encountered chemicals, such as endocrine disrupting compounds (like BPA and phthalates) and other chemical or nonchemical exposures, and how they may interact to adversely impact child health.

“Technology advances have become a powerful driver in studying and understanding the start and spread of disease,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins. “These projects will expand the toolbox available to researchers to improve our ability to characterize environmental exposures, understand how environmental exposures affect in utero development and function, and bolster the infrastructure for exposure research.”

M-CHEAR builds on work in these areas by researchers at the U-M School of Public Health and Medical School who have established world-class labs focused on exposure science, environmental epidemiology, molecular biology, child growth and development, human nutrition, metabolomics (the study of cell chemical byproducts), epigenomics (modifications of the genetic material in cells), analytical chemistry, biostatistics/bioinformatics, and the study of biomarker development, validation and utility.

“We have unique expertise in each of these broad areas, which makes Michigan an exceptional place to conduct this sort of cutting-edge and collaborative research,” Meeker said.

The NIEHS invited universities and scientific organizations to vie for three center types: National Exposure Assessment Laboratory Networks, which are the hubs; a Data Repository, Analysis and Science Center, a house for all data and resource for developing community-based data standards; and a Coordinating Center to manage resources and interface with the research community to index additional tools not included in the CHEAR infrastructure.

Other hubs are at Emory University, the University of Minnesota, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, RTI International and the Wadsworth Center of the New York State Department of Health.

The CHEAR program continues the vision of the National Children’s Study by providing the NIH-funded research community access to laboratory and statistical analyses to add or expand environmental exposures as a component of their research.

M-CHEAR services will include:

  • A Targeted Analysis Resource, led by Meeker, which will provide high-throughput trace level analysis of biomarkers of exposure to a range of environmental exposures, as well as measures of endocrine, metabolic, immune and other functions.
  • A Biological Response Indicators Resource, led by Dr. Dana Dolinoy, associate professor of environmental health sciences and nutritional sciences, which will offer state-of-the-art epigenetic and epigenomic analysis of biospecimens, measures of gene expression and other analyses to complement and functionally validate epigenetic discoveries.
  • An Untargeted Analysis Resource, led by Dr. Charles Burant, professor of internal medicine and molecular and integrative physiology, which will provide expertise and advice in the design of untargeted metabolomic studies, recommendations for use of proper untargeted metabolomics platforms, and assistance in statistical analysis of complex data.
  • A Developmental Core, led by Dr. Subramaniam Pennathur, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Nephrology, which will develop new methods for measuring biomarkers of exposure and targeted metabolomics, identify unknown metabolites and validate new biological response indicators.

To carry out these services, M-CHEAR will collaborate with existing laboratories at the U-M School of Public Health and Medical School and other organizations in Ann Arbor, such as NSF International.

At the School of Public Health, these core facilities include the Trace Metals and Organic Chemistry Labs, Clinical Ligand Assay Service Satellite Lab and other resources that are part of the NIEHS-funded Michigan Lifestage Environmental Exposures and Disease Core Center.

U-M Medical School participating labs are part of the Biomedical Research Core Facilities, including the Michigan Regional Comprehensive Metabolomics Resource Core (which is one of six national metabolomics centers funded by the NIH Common Fund), DNA Sequencing Core, Epigenomics Core, Proteomics & Peptide Synthesis Core and Michigan Diabetes Research Center Clinical Chemistry Lab Core.


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