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Environmental Factor, April 2012

NIEHS and EPA convene leaders in children’s environmental health research

By Ryan Campbell

Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

Birnbaum’s opening remarks brought the work of the Children’s Centers into context with the overall NIEHS environmental health mission. She took the opportunity to discuss and preview the Institute’s nearly completed 5-year strategic plan. (Photo courtesy of NIH)

More than 150 scientists, experts, and stakeholders, involved in children’s environmental health, convened March 6-7 at the Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research annual meeting, to share scientific strategies, discuss new research approaches, and highlight late-breaking science in the field. The meeting held on the National Institutes of Health (NIH campus) and sponsored by NIEHS and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), provided an opportunity to foster collaborations, develop new partnerships, and enhance the overall children’s environmental health network. 

Speakers included many leading authorities in the field of children’s environmental health, beginning with NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and EPA Director of the Office of Children’s Health Protection and Environmental Education Peter Grevatt, Ph.D. Together, they opened the meeting with complementary messages that highlighted institute and agency priorities. Birnbaum challenged grantees to continue their record of success, by expanding their research and exploring other exposures and diseases.

Other presenters highlighted research findings, and discussed the challenges of quantifying exposure from conception through childhood and linking these to disease endpoints. They addressed topics including assessing how lifestyle habits and contaminant exposures in parents may lead to disease in children, and understanding the role of environment in children’s airway diseases. In addition, researchers shared ways to improve genetic screening methods, novel exposure assessments techniques, such as analyzing children’s teeth for signs of metal exposure, and topics that have received attention in the news, such as bisphenol A in food containers and arsenic in rice and rice products.

Partnerships with communities and non-governmental organizations were an ongoing theme throughout the meeting. A session in communication, outreach, and translation demonstrated the importance of community-academic partnerships, to implement change that can improve the health of communities exposed to environmental contaminants. A children’s advocacy panel discussion, featuring representatives from many well-known organizations, such as the March of Dimes Foundation, American Lung Association, and Children’s Environmental Health Network, described resources and experiences relevant to advancing children’s environmental health.

Meeting participants also had an opportunity to share their research results and discuss collaboration opportunities, during a poster session and breakout discussions. These sessions tackled the challenges of sharing environmental health data, using genome-wide association studies in neurodevelopment, implementing quality control standards in the analyses of epigenetic markers in human studies, and conducting children’s environmental health research in daycare and school settings.

A full agenda, list of meeting presenters, and abstracts are available at: http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/events/pastmtg/2012/children/index.cfm

(Ryan Campbell is a contractor with MDB, Inc. supporting the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)


Gwen Collman, Ph.D.

Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training, was also on hand to welcome experts from the fields of reproductive health, pubertal development, metabolism, early life exposures, and epigenetic changes, as well as key researchers in environmental technologies. (Photo courtesy of NIH)


Peter Grevatt, Ph.D.

Grevatt discussed EPA’s priorities of integrating federal mandates with the best possible science, ensuring safe chemical management, and implementing effective community-based programs. (Photo courtesy of NIH)


Andrea Baccarelli, M.D., Ph.D.

Andrea Baccarelli, M.D., Ph.D., spoke about epigenetic mechanisms in relation to fetal growth and perinatal outcomes, cardiovascular function, obesity, and neurocognition. He is an associate professor of environmental epigenetics in the department of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health. (Photo courtesy of NIH)


Kimberly Gray, Ph.D.

Kimberly Gray, Ph.D., leads the NIEHS Children’s Centers program. The centers focus on children’s exposure to environmental agents, such as pesticides, metals, air pollution, and endocrine disruptors. (Photo courtesy of NIH)


The Natcher Conference Center on the NIH campus

The Natcher Conference Center on the NIH campus proved to be an ideal meeting location for the hundreds of scientists and other key stakeholders visiting from across the country. (Photo courtesy of NIH)


Communications resources

Children’s Center directors and investigators were able learn about how to maximize communication and research translation efforts from NIEHS and EPA experts.

  • Christie Drew, Ph.D., DERT Program Analysis Branch chief, spoke about how NIEHS measures success by tracking publications, following grantee career trajectories in the NIEHS CareerTrac database, and using the Evaluation Metrics Manual. This information is used to inform Congressional staff, government management staff, and communities.
  • Ed Kang of the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and Kelly Widener, assistant center director for research communications for the EPA National Center of Environmental Research, emphasized the importance of understanding target audiences, increasing Web page development, and webinar participation. Social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, were also highlighted as useful communication tools.
  • Mary Gant, NIEHS congressional liaison, conveyed the importance of working closely with Congress, and knowing its staff members and their political affiliations. Performing background research on Congress, tailoring briefings to congressional staff, and preparing concise and meaningful briefings were recommended best practices.


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