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University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

University of Michigan Children's Environmental Health Center

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Karen E. Peterson, D.Sc.

Project Description:

The University of Michigan Children’s Environmental Health Center seeks to understand how early exposures to contaminants can affect growth and sexual development during childhood and adolescence as well as the risk for diseases in adulthood. The chemicals, nutrients, and other factors in the womb can have lasting health effects later in life.


Researchers at this center are examining the health effects of early life exposures to chemicals such as lead, bisphenol A (BPA), and phthalates in a group of 200 adolescents that have followed from before birth. The researchers strive to communicate their findings to scientists, local communities, and the public so that their research may inform future science and public health efforts.

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Project 1: Prenatal exposures, early childhood growth, and sexual maturation 

Project leader: Karen E. Peterson, D.Sc.


In this project, researchers examine how exposure to lead in the womb, and immediately after birth, affects the activity of four genes that play a key role in regulating growth and maturation. Researchers are also tracking how lead exposure relates to obesity and sexual development. Children’s weight and the timing of their sexual development can affect their risk for later diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. This project draws upon data from the Early Life Exposures in Mexico to Environmental Toxicants (ELEMENT) study, which includes 200 children and teens that have been followed from before birth to the present.

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Pilot Project 1: In utero lead exposure: Fetal epigenonrie and life-course physiologic effects

Project leader: Dana Dolinoy, Ph.D.


Lead can cause many health problems in adults, but its effects on children are even more drastic. After exposure to lead in the womb, many children face severe developmental problems and diseases later in life. In this project, scientists use mice to trace the effects of early lead exposure on attributes like body fat, physical activity, food intake, and hormonal balances throughout life. Researchers also look at how lead exposure might affect which genes are turned on or off at critical periods in development and thus contribute to later health.

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Pilot Project 2: Impacts of Life-stage Exposures to BPA and Phthalates on Growth and Development

Project leader: John Meeker, Sc.D.


There is recent evidence that exposure to BPA and phthalates may be associated with adverse effects on fetal and child growth and development. This project is looking at possible relationships between exposures and birth outcome measures as well as weight and weight gain in early childhood. The researchers are also examining links between early-life or adolescent exposures and stages of sexual maturation and hormones levels that are relevant to weight, weight gain, and pubertal development. In addition, they aim to identify products used by adolescents or behaviors that are associated with increased BPA and phthalate exposure to inform approaches that can reduce exposure and risk.

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