Pilot Projects Awarded 2020 (Round 1)

Title of Project: Leveraging new technologies to assess noise exposure and mobility patterns during COVID-19: a pilot study in NYC women

Principal Investigator (MPI): Laura McGuinn, PhD; Itai Kloog, PhD; Homero Harari, ScD

Co-Investigators: Robert Wright MD, MPH; Rosalind Wright, MD, MPH; Nicholas DeFelice, PhD

Project Period: January 31, 2020 – January 30, 2021

Pilot Award Amount: $25,000

 

Abstract: As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, several non-pharmaceutical interventions went into place, including social distancing and work from home orders. Though effective, the ability to social distance and work from home is not equal across all geographic regions, socioeconomic gradients, and race/ethnicities. Due to these disparities, the virus causing COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) has disproportionately infected lower socioeconomic status (SES) populations and communities of color – populations with historically higher environmental and social stress exposure. Noise exposure is one environmental stressor that has been consistently shown to be higher in lower SES populations. Though many sources of noise have decreased across the country, residential noise exposure has increased dramatically in places such as New York City (NYC). Noise exposure may additionally follow similar socioeconomic gradients during and after the pandemic, and may vary by individual mobility patterns. Wearable devices, such as Apple Watches, are capable of capturing these individual time-varying noise levels, mobility patterns, and activity levels, though their use in population wide studies thus far has been limited. We aim to use pilot funds to take advantage of these novel technologies and 1) compare the performance of the noise meters on wearable devices such as Apple Watches to gold standard noise meters, 2) pilot the use of these devices for the collection of noise and mental health symptoms in a group of racially and socioeconomically diverse women enrolled in the Programming of Intergenerational Stress Mechanisms birth cohort study, and 3) assess if the noise and mental health symptoms differ based on mobility and daily travel patterns. Ultimately, the results from this study will better define mental health impacts of both environmental noise exposure and COVID-related stress, and help provide pilot data for a larger R01 incorporating wearable devices and mental health outcomes.


Title of Project: Untargeted analysis of personal environmental exposures and respiratory outcomes in children

Principal Investigator (MPI): Douglas I. Walker, PhD; Maria José Rosa, DrPH

Co-Investigators: Marcela Tamayo y Ortiz, ScD

Project Period: July 15, 2020 – July 14, 2021

Pilot Award Amount: $25,000

 

Abstract: Indoor and outdoor environmental risk factors for the development and exacerbation of childhood respiratory disease in Latin America remain understudied. Novel personal sampling methods, analytical techniques and big data approaches have been developed that can provide a comprehensive assessment of the external exposome. These new techniques can help researchers understand exposure within the actual microenvironments in which children live and potentially identify novel chemical exposures associated with respiratory disease that in turn may help drive public health interventions. In this proposal we will leverage an ongoing respiratory health study in Mexico City to comprehensively evaluate personal chemical exposures through untargeted analysis of silicone wristband passive samplers. These wristbands are noninvasive and have been validated in multiple populations as tools for environmental monitoring. While most studies have used targeted analysis of chemicals, by using untargeted methods, we can better discover novel exposures that may be driving respiratory outcomes. We will collect these measures in 100 children with lung function measures collected in the study and identify chemical exposures in personal samplers that are associated with lung function measures.


Title of Project: Identifying the role of early environmental toxicants in newborns with biliary atresia
Principal Investigator (MPI): Jaime Chu, MD; Lauren Petrick, PhD

Co-Investigators:  Elena Colicino, PhD; Syam Andra, PhD; Sanjiv Harpavat, MD, PhD

Project Period:  July 15, 2020 – July 14, 2021

Pilot Award Amount: $25,000

 

Abstract:As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, several non-pharmaceutical interventions went into place, including social distancing and work from home orders. Though effective, the ability to social distance and work from home is not equal across all geographic regions, socioeconomic gradients, and race/ethnicities. Due to these disparities, the virus causing COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) has disproportionately infected lower socioeconomic status (SES) populations and communities of color – populations with historically higher environmental and social stress exposure. Noise exposure is one environmental stressor that has been consistently shown to be higher in lower SES populations. Though many sources of noise have decreased across the country, residential noise exposure has increased dramatically in places such as New York City (NYC). Noise exposure may additionally follow similar socioeconomic gradients during and after the pandemic, and may vary by individual mobility patterns. Wearable devices, such as Apple Watches, are capable of capturing these individual time-varying noise levels, mobility patterns, and activity levels, though their use in population wide studies thus far has been limited. We aim to use pilot funds to take advantage of these novel technologies and 1) compare the performance of the noise meters on wearable devices such as Apple Watches to gold standard noise meters, 2) pilot the use of these devices for the collection of noise and mental health symptoms in a group of racially and socioeconomically diverse women enrolled in the Programming of Intergenerational Stress Mechanisms birth cohort study, and 3) assess if the noise and mental health symptoms differ based on mobility and daily travel patterns. Ultimately, the results from this study will better define mental health impacts of both environmental noise exposure and COVID-related stress, and help provide pilot data for a larger R01 incorporating wearable devices and mental health outcomes.


Title of Project: Spatial exploration of inter-relationships of Covid-19 infection, metal exposure, transcriptome and immune response in human placentas

Principal Investigator (MPI): Corina Lesseur, MD, PhD; Megan Niedzwiecki , PhD; Christine Austin, PhD; Kristin G Beaumont, PhD

Co-Investigators: Jia Chen, ScD; Rachel Brody, MD, PhD; Fumiko Dekio, MD

Project Period:  July 15, 2020 – July 14, 2021

Pilot Award Amount: $25,000

 

Abstract: During pregnancy the placenta regulates the intrauterine environment, including maternal immune and hemostatic responses. Little is known about the possible health impacts of the novel respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection during pregnancy or in the placenta. SARS-CoV-2 has been related to inflammatory and thrombotic changes in multiple organs which could also influence placental function. Maternal exposures to trace metals can also influence immunological, hemostatic responses and placental function. We have previously developed a multiplexed approach that integrated spatial metallome (tissue distributions of multiple trace metals) and inflammatory marker immunohistochemistry (IHC) profiling to identify distinct patterns of metal accumulation at sites of inflammation in human placenta. Similarly, recently developed spatial transcriptomic (ST) methods allow for in situ mapping of gene transcripts. In this pilot project, we seek to apply these cutting edge spatial techniques to develop a multimodal imaging pipeline to determine the impact of SARS-CoV-2 infection on the placenta from a systems biology perspective. In term placental tissues (n=6) delivered from SARS-CoV-2 negative mothers (n=2, controls) and from SARS-CoV-2 positive mothers (n=4; 2 without histopathological abnormalities and 2 with histopathological evidence of inflammatory and/or thrombotic lesions) we will profile: 1) protein markers of inflammation and endothelial damage as well as SARS-CoV-2 antigens (IHC), 2) spatial transcriptome-wide mapping and 3) metallome tissue distribution. We will use state-of-the art bioinformatic and statistical approaches to integrate protein markers, gene transcripts and trace metals into a single spatially-resolved map by tissue sample. We hypothesize that SARS-CoV-2 infection induces placental inflammation and vascular injury that co-localize with trace metals element distribution. Our results will provide insight into the biological response to SARS-CoV-2 infection in pregnant women and how metal exposures may alter such response.


Title of Project: Untargeted analysis of personal environmental exposures and respiratory outcomes in children

Principal Investigator: Douglas I. Walker, PhD

Co-Investigators: Robert Wright, MD, MPH; Rosalind J Wright, MD, MPH

Project Period:  July 15, 2020 – July 14, 2021

Pilot Award Amount: $25,000

 

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic created a global natural experiment in environmental exposures. Shelter in place orders are nearly universal around the planet, coupled with changes in behavior due to business closures, travel limitations, unemployment, school closures and altered activity levels among other changes, it is clear that our external environment has changed. To estimate these changes, we propose to measure indoor and outdoor environmental factors during and after the pandemic. Novel personal sampling methods, analytical techniques and big data approaches have been developed that can provide a comprehensive assessment of the external exposome. These new techniques can help researchers understand exposure within the actual microenvironments in which children live and potentially identify novel chemical exposures associated with respiratory disease that in turn will help us understand the implications of public health interventions related to the pandemic. In this proposal we will leverage cohort studies in New York City and Mexico City to comprehensively evaluate personal chemical exposures through untargeted analysis of silicone wristband passive samplers. These wristbands are noninvasive and have been validated in multiple populations as tools for environmental monitoring. While most studies have used targeted analysis of chemicals, by using untargeted methods, we can better discover novel exposures that may be driving respiratory outcomes. We will collect these measures in 100 children during and after the pandemic to identify chemical exposures in personal samplers that are associated with public health interventions and societal changes.


Title of Project: Community Engaged Outreach on Environmental Justice.

Principal Investigator (MPI): Luz Claudio, PhD

Co-Investigators: Maya Korin, PhD, MS; Muhammed Y. Idris, PhD

Project Period:  July 15, 2020 – July 14, 2021

Pilot Award Amount: $25,000

 

Abstract: Background: Disadvantaged communities have a disproportionate burden of environmental hazard exposures, increasing health disparities. Health disparities have become even more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent increased awareness of institutional racism that exacerbates these disparities. Now more than ever, there is an urgent need for creative outreach that improves health literacy in minority communities. Objectives: The goal is to adapt and test a mobile platform used by the United Nations Refugee Agency, Compass, to deliver COVID-19 and environmental health information in practical, accessible, health literate manner through trusted community partners. Our aim is to first develop and then test the Enviro-Compass app as a novel way of disseminating health information in underserved communities. This pilot will serve as proof-of-concept for future grant funding. Methods and Expected Outcomes: Compass is a mobile platform and set of developer tools designed to help quickly translate and disseminate practical information to vulnerable communities. We will modify the app in two important ways: 1) incorporate COVID-19 and environmental health information appropriate to the partner community-based organizations, 2) to collect information on usage and effectiveness. Partnering with CBOs that are part of the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health and the New York Environmental Justice Board, we will first recruit two organizations to beta test our app and revise the platform accordingly. Then, we will reach out to community leaders to tailor and disseminate the app to their constituents. A pre-post test will be prompted in the app to measure knowledge gain and retention. Using metrics integrated in the app, we will measure engagement. Data analysis will be done in collaboration with the Center’s Biostatistics Core. We expect that this pilot project will allow us to create and test this app as a novel method for health promotion in hard to reach populations.


Title of Project: A Community-Based Study to Understand the Impacts of COVID-19 on Asthma-related Healthcare Utilization in NYC Children

Principal Investigator (MPI): Nicholas DeFelice, PhD; Erin Thanik, MD, MPH

Co-Investigators: Douglas Bush, MD; Lauren Zajac, MD; Elizabeth Garland MD

Project Period:  July 15, 2020 – July 14, 2021

Pilot Award Amount: $25,000

 

Abstract: The impact of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic across New York City (NYC) is not uniform- the mortality rate in East Harlem (EH) is 4-5 times greater than surrounding neighborhoods. Emerging data suggests that during pandemics other healthcare issues, such as asthma, are overlooked. Nationally, children were 84% less likely to seek care for asthma in emergency departments (EDs) during the initial stages of the pandemic compared to the same period in 2019; little is known about changes to asthma related care for children in EH, who suffer disproportionately from asthma-related morbidity. Objectives: (1) Build on existing community partnership to understand the impact COVID-19 had on the ability of families to seek appropriate asthma care. (2) Evaluate seasonal patterns of environmental exposures associated with asthma-related healthcare in a high-risk pediatric population to develop a forecasting system to inform preventive public health and clinical interventions.

Methods: This community-based participatory research project is in partnership with LSA Family Health Services to collect and analyze survey responses from families in EH with children diagnosed with asthma, compared to families living in a geographically adjacent neighborhood with historically different health outcomes. This survey will evaluate differences in personal behavior, environmental conditions, and health care utilization in response to COVID-19. Additionally, we will develop a statistical inference system to compare historical baseline healthcare utilization patterns for asthma exacerbations attributable to various environmental triggers (air pollutants, pollens, infectious agents) with hospital utilization during the pandemic.

Outcomes and Innovations: Our community survey results will identify barriers to care and concerns regarding environmental exposures, which will inform future public health and clinical responses to optimize care during current and future public health crises. This study will also develop an innovative forecasting system for asthma-related healthcare utilization among NYC children, based on the influence of several environmental variables.