UC Berkeley gets $16.5 million for three children’s environmental health centers

BERKELEY —

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health are getting $16.5 million to support three research centers as part of a federal initiative to examine the environmental factors influencing children’s health.

Nurse using a stethescope.
UC Berkeley's School of Public Health is receiving $16.5 million to support research on environmental health factors and children's health.

The grants to UC Berkeley are among $54 million recently awarded to 12 university-based centers across the country by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). UC Berkeley is the only institution to have received awards for multiple centers.

The new grants are part of a program that began in 1998 with eight centers funded by the NIEHS and the EPA. The newest funding incorporates the latest biomonitoring tools and advances in epigenetics, or the study of inheritable genetic changes linked to exposure to chemical and environmental agents.

“These awards give testimony to the school’s leadership in the field of environmental epidemiology,” said Stephen Shortell, dean of UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. “This research will address the environmental health risks of some of the state’s most vulnerable populations, and the knowledge gained will lead to new polices and practices that will help mitigate these risks.”

Of the 12 new centers, six will each receive an average of $7.5 million over five years. An additional six, charged with studying less-established environmental determinants of children’s health, will each receive an average of $1.5 million over three years.

The three UC Berkeley centers to be funded are:

•    The Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, led by Brenda Eskenazi, professor of maternal and child health and of epidemiology. It will receive $7.5 million. The foundation of this interdisciplinary research program, one of the original eight centers funded in 1998, is a longitudinal study of primarily low-income, Mexican immigrant women and their children living in the agricultural community of California’s Salinas Valley. The researchers are studying the health impact of exposures to such chemicals as agricultural pesticides, flame retardants and DDT.

•    The Center for Integrative Research on Childhood Leukemia and the Environment, led by Patricia Buffler, professor of epidemiology. It also will receive $7.5 million. The research program in this center is designed to examine the effects of in utero and early life exposure to potentially carcinogenic chemicals present in homes — including pesticides, flame retardants and secondhand smoke — and these chemicals’ interplay with genetic and epigenetic factors in the development of childhood leukemia.

•    The Center for Environmental Public Health, a new formative center led by Dr. Ira Tager, professor and chair of epidemiology. This center will receive $1.5 million. The overall goal of this center, formed in partnership with researchers from Stanford University, is to study the effects of in utero and childhood exposure to ambient air pollutants and bioaerosols on birth outcomes, regulatory T-cell function and the occurrence of asthma in the lower half of California’s Central Valley. The region studied has some of the highest levels of air pollution in the country.

In addition to the centers at UC Berkeley, the NIEHS and the EPA have awarded $1.5 million to UC San Francisco to fund the Pregnancy Exposures to Environmental Contaminants Children’s Environmental Health Formative Center, led by Tracey Woodruff, UCSF associate professor of reproductive health and the environment. Researchers at that center seek to study and prevent harmful exposures to environmental contaminants during pregnancy.