Research Overview

The Mount Sinai Center for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research is an interdisciplinary Center funded by the NIEHS and EPA since 1998. Entitled "Inner City Toxicants, Child Growth and Development", it supports a portfolio of basic and applied research focusing on the impact of chemical exposures on somatic and neurologic development in children, from the fetus through adolescence. Among the agents of interest are pesticides, lead and PCBs and the so-called endocrine disruptors (EDs) (phthalates, phenols, especially alkylphenols such as bisphenol A, and phytoestrogens). We are also interested in how the Urban Built Environment, or the structural features of the city as well as its complex mix of chemical contaminants, exert profound and pervasive influences on the health, growth and development of children, and whether these effects are especially magnified in poor and minority children.

Our focus on new-age EDs arose because these chemicals have become widely dispersed in the urban environment. Significant levels are found in the bodies of nearly all Americans, and levels of many are highest in children and in minorities. Yet relatively little is known either about urban children's sources of exposure to the synthetic EDs or about the possible effects of these chemicals on children's health. By focusing on EDs, their sources, relationship to diet, physical activity, somatic growth, childhood obesity and neurobehavioral development in the urban environment, we hope to elucidate relationships that will guide evidence-based efforts to improve children's health.

Ending in 2002, a community-based intervention project supported by the Center demonstrated that it is possible to reduce residential use of pesticides in the inner city and to introduce Integrated Pest Management as a means of reducing children's toxic exposures. Currently our community research project is investigating the built-environment in East Harlem in relation to child growth, lifestyle and chemical exposures. We are following a cohort of 521 children with measurement of environmental exposures in relation to body size and other developmental parameters as well as to the urban built-environment.

A birth cohort established in 1998-2000 has been followed through 2008. Maternal exposures were assessed during pregnancy, and the children have been followed since birth. Not surprisingly, our research affirms that the developing brain may be the most sensitive endpoint for EDs, which are weak biologic activity and occur at relatively low levels in the body, compared to experiment studies that find endocrine effects. We find that effects of some prenatal exposures are detectable at the age of 7 years. Future directions include trying to better understand children's health in relation to complex mixtures of environmental exposures, as all of us are exposed to multiple chemicals from the environment (not one at a time!).

In the birth cohort project, we have also undertaken research on genetic variation in metabolic factors directly related to environmental exposures, including genetic and phenotypic markers of paraxonase, lipase, and glucuronidase. Such research helps to better understand how levels of chemicals within the body vary among individuals. We have explored whether genetic variants (Ancestry-informative Markers) improve characterization of racial/ethnicity in epidemiologic models. We have also studied placental gene expression and loss of imprinting as well as gene methylation.