Projects Awarded in 2014

The newly funded Mount Sinai NIEHS Core Center announced its first call for Pilot Grant proposal in December 2014. The Center’s mission is to increase the Environmental Health (EH) research portfolio at Mount Sinai and to bring non-EH researchers into the field through new transdisciplinary collaborations.

Title: Novel Tissue Elemental bio-Imaging to Study the Role of Environmental Pollutants in Type I Diabetes

PI: Dr. Manish Arora

There is a well-documented rise in the incidence of type 1 diabetes (T1D) in children from industrialized countries suggesting a role for environmental chemical exposures. Alarmingly, the increased incidence is seen mostly in children under age 5. However, research on environmental chemical exposures and T1D is very limited and there is an urgent need for research to fill this gap in our knowledge. Therefore, the goal of this proposal is to identify environmental pollutants that play a role in the increased incidence of T1D in children. Identifying the causes of the increasing incidence of T1D in children will enable us to develop prevention strategies based on the mechanisms causing the disease.

Title: Autism Spectrum Disorders and Prenatal Persistent Organic Pollutants (ASD-POP)

PI: Dr. Avi Reichenberg

There is an urgent need to understand the role of environmental factors in the risk for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Prenatal exposure to several classes of chemicals, including pharmaceuticals, has been examined in relation to ASD risk. Increased risk of ASD was recently reported for prescribed mood stabilizers (SSRIs and Valproate). However, pregnant women and fetuses are exposed to many pollutants in addition to pharmaceuticals, and for most of these the risk of ASD has scarcely been characterized. To address this, population-based investigations are required that can adequately examine the role of prenatal exposure to environmental chemicals in ASD etiology. This project will help establish the necessary preliminary work to accurately and precisely estimate the contribution of prenatal POPs exposure to the etiology of ASD.

Title: Air Pollution Exposure During Pregnancy and Respiratory Health in Childhood

PI: Dr. Rosalind Wright

In utero exposure to ambient pollution may adversely affect the developing respiratory system. Despite the long history of research on this issue, very little is known regarding which life stages are most susceptible. The identification of windows of susceptibility in pregnancy or in childhood would direct the appropriate timing of public health efforts and could direct researchers to more efficiently elucidate the mechanisms through which ambient air pollution is associated with respiratory morbidity, as the timing for assessments would be evidence based. We predict that children with higher exposure during this window will have lower lung function measures and higher levels of airway inflammation. We will also explore a potential interaction between ambient air pollution and psychosocial stressors.

Title: Neuroimaging Phenotypes of Prenatal and Early Childhood Exposure to Manganese

PI: Dr. Megan Horton

Modern neuroimaging tools such as magnetic resonance imaging have been used to characterize the development of normal brain processes and to understand the neuropathological and neurofunctional correlates of developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Only recently, these neuroimaging tools have been applied to epidemiologic studies of children’s environmental health to begin to explore the neuropathological and neurofunctional mechanisms by which exposure to environmental toxicants derail normal neurodevelopment. In this study, we propose to examine the neuroimaging phenotypes associated with prenatal and childhood exposure to manganese (Mn). Several recent environmental epidemiologic studies extend these findings to children revealing inverse associations between early life exposure and childhood cognition, behavior and motor skills. To date, no studies have investigated the neural correlates of Mn-induced neurodevelopmental toxicity in children.

Title: Leveraging Big Data and Machine Learning to Assess the Effects of Multiple Air Toxics on Cognitive Outcomes in Children

PI: Dr. Gaurav Pandey

Epidemiologic studies have shown that prenatal exposures to ambient air pollutants are associated with neurodevelopment and behavior in infants and children. Although ambient air is a complex mixture of multiple pollutants, most previous research has focused on the effects of individual pollutants on children’s cognitive health. Machine learning techniques present a new opportunity to examine the joint effects of multiple air pollutants on cognitive outcomes, but there has been limited implementation of these techniques in air pollution epidemiology. Overall, this pilot will establish the feasibility of applying machine learning techniques to pediatric environmental health data, provide preliminary findings of epidemiologic risk estimates, and facilitate the development of future collaborative work strategies for our interdisciplinary research team.

Title: Hospital-Based Chemical Exposure and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes in Preterm Infants

PI: Dr. Annemarie Stroustrup

Each year in the United States, over 300,000 neonates require admission to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where they are exposed to a chemical-intensive hospital environment. Preterm infants spend a particularly vulnerable developmental period corresponding to the third trimester in the NICU. It is known that chemical exposure at this point in development can permanently alter neurobehavioral outcomes in healthy fetuses, and that phthalates and phenols are common constituents of medical products used in neonatology. We also know that NICU graduates experience neurodevelopmental abnormalities at higher rates than the general population and may represent a highly vulnerable subpopulation for toxic chemical exposure. Neurodevelopmental disorders among NICU graduates are incompletely predicted by degree of prematurity or neonatal illness.