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University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley/Stanford Children's Environmental Health Center

University of California, Berkeley
Ira B. Tager, M.D.

Project Description:

The Berkeley/Stanford Children’s Environmental Health Center works to better understand how exposure to air pollutants and airborne bacteria in the womb can affect a child’s health. Evidence suggests that exposure to air pollutants while in the womb can contribute to birth defects, the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States. Exposure to air pollutants is also linked to asthma development in children. Center researchers examine the effects of these early-life exposures on newborn health and immune system health during childhood as well as their relationship to asthma in children.


The center conducts research in California’s San Joaquin Valley, which has some of the highest levels of air pollutants in the country. This fast-growing region includes industrial farming areas and expanding cities. The mountains that surround the area on three sides can trap air pollutants in the valley. The center collaborates with a number of community partners.

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Project 1: Effect of multi-level environmental exposure on birth outcomes 

Project leader: Ira Tager, M.D.


This project uses data on more than 300,000 births in the San Joaquin Valley to evaluate possible effects of exposures to mixtures of pollutants on birth outcomes. These researchers use data on the geographic distribution of air pollution, traffic density, vehicle counts, neighborhood density, and demographic variables as well as census data and data models to identify groups of children who are more susceptible to pollutants. Investigators are also analyzing saliva samples for genetic and epigenetic factors that might make some children more susceptible. Epigenetic changes produce a different pattern of gene expression without changing the genetic code.

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Project 2: Exposure to air pollutants and risk of birth defects 

Project leader: Gary M. Shaw, Dr.P.H.


This project aims to determine whether exposures to specific air pollutants and mixtures of air pollutants, especially during critical periods of pregnancy, are associated with structural birth defects in newborns. Air pollutants come from a variety of sources, including vehicle exhaust or industrial contaminants released into the air. The researchers are conducting a rigorous population-based study that targets 30 different birth defects. They are using data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, the largest case-control study conducted on birth defects in the United States.

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Project 3: Ambient pollutant/bioaerosol effects on Treg function 

Project leader: Kari Nadeau, M.D., Ph.D.


This project is gathering data that will address the possible association between air pollution exposure and increases in cases of asthma. The researchers are studying how air pollutants affect the developing immune system and regulatory T cell function. Regulatory T cells, also called Tregs, help regulate and stabilize the immune system so that it can protect the body from foreign substances. The lack of normal regulatory T cells in the lung is associated with childhood asthma. This study will generate a unique body of detailed exposure and individual follow-up data linked to immune system changes.

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