Columbia University Health Sciences
Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health
Since 1998, the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at Columbia University has studied the long-term health of urban pollutants on children raised in minority neighborhoods of inner-city communities. Investigators have followed a group of children in New York City from the time they were in the womb, looking to determine whether exposure to pollutants might make children more prone to obesity or lead to problems with learning and behavior later in life.
Current center projects examine possible health effects of exposure to common environmental chemicals considered to be endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors interfere with the body’s natural hormones by imitating or blocking the normal flow of hormones. These chemicals can potentially affect a child’s development, brain function, and immune system. Researchers at the center focus on two endocrine disruptors: bisphenol A (BPA), which is widely used in food packaging and canned foods, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are found in exhaust from motor vehicles and factories.
Project leaders: Andrew Rundle, Dr.P.H., Robin Whyatt, Dr.P.H.
Both BPA and PAHs are linked to obesity and metabolic syndrome, a collection of factors that increase a person’s risk for coronary disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Because childhood obesity rates in the United States have increased dramatically, especially among minority populations, it is critical to understand how endocrine disruptors could promote obesity. In this project, researchers evaluate whether children exposed to BPA and PAHs in the womb and during early childhood are more likely to develop obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Project leaders: Virginia Rauh, Sc.D., Frederica P. Perera, Dr.P.H.
Exposure to endocrine disruptors, especially in the womb, can affect brain and nervous system development, which includes emotional development, learning ability, and memory. In this project, researchers investigate whether children exposed to BPA and PAHs in the womb are more likely to develop learning and behavior problems. They also study the effects of these exposures on nervous system and brain development and are examining whether epigenetic changes mediate these health effects. Epigenetic changes produce a different pattern of gene expression without changing the genetic code.
Project leaders: Frances Champagne, Ph.D., Rachel Miller, M.D.
In this project, researchers use mice to learn how BPA and PAHs might affect obesity and brain development by altering the expression of certain genes. The researchers validate biomarkers identified in projects 1 and 2 and examine the connection between epigenetic changes in blood with those in the brain. They also study the degree to which epigenetic changes come from exposure to BPA and PAHs and use mouse models to understand how the effects of exposure could be passed on to future generations.