NIEHS/EPA CEHCs: Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health - Columbia University
Since 1998, the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at Columbia University has been studying the long-term health of urban pollutants on children raised in minority neighborhoods in inner-city communities. Investigators enrolled and have since followed a group of children in New York City from the time they were in the womb through the present, looking to determine whether exposure to these chemicals might make children more prone to obesity or have problems with learning and behavior later in life.
The current Children’s Center grant is funding three separate but related projects looking at possible health effects of common environmental chemicals considered to be endocrine disruptors. These are chemicals that interfere with the body’s natural hormones, imitating or blocking the normal flow of hormones and as a result, potentially affecting a child’s development, brain function and immune system.
Researchers at this Children’s Center focus on two of these chemicals and their effects on children’s health: Bisphenol A (BPA), which is widely used in food packaging and canned foods, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), present mainly in exhaust from motor vehicles and factories.
Center Website: Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health
- Research Projects
Project 1: Endocrine Disruptors & Obesity among Inner-City Children Both BPA and PAHs have been linked to obesity and metabolic syndrome, which is a collection of factors that increase a person’s risk for coronary disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. By age five, 43% of the children in the CCCEH study were found to be 85% over the optimal weight for their age group, putting them at risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems later in life. Because childhood obesity rates in the United States have increased dramatically, especially among minority populations, it is critical to understand how endocrine disruptors could promote obesity. In this project researchers evaluate whether children exposed to BPA and PAHs in the womb and during early-childhood are more likely to develop obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Project Leaders: Andrew Rundle, Dr.P.H., and Robin Whyatt, Dr.P.H., Columbia University
Project 2: Endocrine Disruptors, Epigenetic Mechanisms & Neurodevelopment Nearly 20% of U.S. children have been diagnosed with a learning or behavioral disorder, and there is evidence that being exposed to endocrine disruptors (especially in the womb) may affect brain and nervous system development including emotional development, learning ability and memory. In this project, researchers are investigating if children exposed to BPA and PAHs in the womb are more likely to develop problems with learning and behavior and what effects such exposures may have on nervous system and brain development. Investigators at this Center are also looking to see if epigenetic mechanisms serve as mediators of these health effects.
Project Leaders: Virginia Rauh, Sc.M., and Frederica P. Perera, Dr.P.H., Columbia University
Project 3: Molecular Disease Consequences of Prenatal BPA, PAHS Exposure
In this project, researchers use mice to learn how BPA and PAHs might affect obesity and brain development by altering the expression of certain genes. This project is designed to validate the biomarkers determined in projects 1 and 2 and to better understand the connection between epigenetic changes (changes in the pattern of which genes are turned on and off) in blood with those in the brain and to what degree these changes are the product of exposure to BPA and PAHs . The researchers are also using mouse models to understand how the effects of exposure to these chemicals could be passed on to future generations because there is evidence that exposure to environmental pollutants which cause epigenetic changes can lead to inheritable effects.
Project Leaders: Frances Champagne, Ph.D., and Rachel Miller, M.D., Columbia University
Primary Environmental Exposures: Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC’s) - bisphenol A (BPA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
Primary Health Outcomes: Obesity, neurodevelopmental disorders such as problems with learning and behavior, gene-environment interaction