EDGE Center researchers awarded NIH grant to study environmental influences on child health and development

EDGE Center researchers Catherine Karr and Sheela Sathyanarayana are co-PIs for a $4.7 million award by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The award to the University of Washington School of Public Health (SPH) is part of a seven-year initiative called Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) that will investigate how the environment influences neurodevelopment and asthma risk in children.

Dr. Catherine Karr
The NIH ECHO program encompasses $157 million in funding for FY2016-17 for a multitude of projects that will investigate how exposure to a range of environmental factors from conception through early childhood influences the health of children and adolescents. The studies will target four key pediatric outcomes with a high public health impact: airway health, obesity, neuro-development and birth outcomes.

According to NIH Director Francis S. 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.”

 “Our UW-based PATHWAYS study is a microcosm of the national ECHO program, which capitalizes on collaboration among top scientists and existing research populations,” said Dr. Karr, professor of pediatrics and environmental and occupational health at the UW who will co-lead the investigative team with Sathyanarayana and co-PIs Kaja LeWinn and Nicole Bush from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and Francis Tylavsky from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis (UTHSC). 

Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana
The UW grant money will allow the SPH’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences to oversee a combined study of more than 3,000 ethnically diverse pregnant mothers and their newborns. The cohorts are in communities across the United States, including Seattle, Yakima, San Francisco, Memphis, Minneapolis and Rochester. After this two-year study, grant recipients will have the opportunity to recompete for five more years of funding.

“We’ve assembled three successful cohorts of mothers and babies that have been collecting data since the pregnancy period,” Karr said. “Our study contributes specialty expertise characterizing air pollution and phthalate exposures as well as social factors such as stress, and examines their influence on child asthma, allergies and neurodevelopment.”

Karr and Sathyanarayana and their partners from UCSF and UTHSC will use maternal blood collected during pregnancy and placental tissues collected at birth, as well as air pollution modeling and surveys, to understand the impact of chemical and non-chemical stressors on the developing fetus. Other collaborating institutions include Meharry Medical College, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York University, University of Minnesota, University of Pittsburgh, University of Rochester and Vanderbilt University.

“The large and diverse study population and multidisciplinary expertise of UW PATHWAYS investigators enable us to better understand real-world, mixed-exposures scenarios,” said Karr. “We will examine how these may perturb important biological processes during pregnancy that may result in respiratory and neurodevelopmental problems in childhood."

NIH Director Collins believes “Every baby should have the best opportunity to remain healthy and thrive throughout childhood. ECHO will help us better understand the factors that contribute to optimal health in children.”

Here's the award announcement from the University of Washington School of Public Health.

-- Marilyn Hair


The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. The PATHWAYS study is supported by the NIH under award number 1UG3OD023271-01.

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