NIH Awards Nearly $5 Million to Research Environmental Influences on Child Health

The University of Washington School of Public Health was awarded more than $4.7 million on Wednesday by the National Institutes of Health to investigate how the environment influences neurodevelopment and asthma risk in children.

The grant was part of $157 million in national awards announced by the NIH for a multitude of projects under a seven-year initiative called Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO). The ECHO program will investigate how exposure to a range of environmental factors in early development — from conception through early childhood — influences the health of children and adolescents. The studies will target four key pediatric outcomes that have a high public health impact: airway health, obesity, neurodevelopment and birth outcomes.


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“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 Catherine Karr, professor of pediatrics and environmental and occupational health at the UW, who will lead the investigative team.

The UW grant money will be distributed over two years and allow the School’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health 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. The subsequent five years of funding is up for competitive renewal.

“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 co-Principal Investigators from Seattle Children’s Research Institute (Sheela Sathyanarayana); University of California, San Francisco (Nicole Bush, Kaja LeWinn); and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis (Fran Tylavsky) will use maternal blood collected during pregnancy and placental tissues collected at birth as well as air pollution modelling and surveys to understand the impact of chemical and non-chemical stressors on the developing fetus.

“The large and diverse study population and multidisciplinary expertise of 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."

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 NIH awards will build the infrastructure and capacity for the ECHO program to support multiple longitudinal studies that extend and expand existing studies of mothers and their children.

Photo of Catherine Karr and Sheela Sathanarayana

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

The UW will also participate in ECHO pediatric study collaborations with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Inc. and the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute.

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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