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DISCOVER Grants Awarded

By Robin Mackar
February 2008

Frederica Perera, Dr. P.H.
Frederica Perera (Photo courtesy of Eric Evans and Columbia University)
Joel Kaufman, M.D.
Joel Kaufman (Photo courtesy of the University of Washington Seattle)
Patrick N. Breysse, Ph. D.
Patrick Breysse (Photo courtesy of Johns Hopkins University)

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) announced awards totaling $6.8 million for the first year of funding to three new research centers called DISCOVER centers - Disease Investigation Through Specialized Clinically-Oriented Ventures in Environmental Research. The new DISCOVER centers are expected to bridge the gap between basic research and clinical treatment of diseases caused by environmental factors.

"The DISCOVER centers will help to define the role of environmental agents in the initiation and progression of human disease and develop new ways to both prevent and treat disease," said Dennis Lang, Ph.D., interim director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training, as he announced the new awards. "The potential impact of the research that these three centers will be conducting is enormous."

NIEHS launched the DISCOVER program in January 2006 when the initial grant opportunities were announced. The centers reflect an integrated research approach expected to advance our understanding of how the environment interacts with biological processes to either preserve health or cause disease by bringing together laboratory research and population based studies.

"The research being supported through this program is unique in that each DISCOVER center will support projects that will be patient- or clinically oriented, while also looking at the mechanisms of how certain environmental factors influence disease etiology, pathogenesis, susceptibility, progression, and prognosis," said David Balshaw, Ph.D., one of the scientists at NIEHS who helped develop the program.

Balshaw points out that the new centers reflect the commitment of NIEHS to children's health research. "Two of the DISCOVER centers are direct extensions of previously funded Centers for Children's Environmental Health. The DISCOVER centers will focus their efforts on understanding the clinical impact of environmental exposures in children and extending that research to improve diagnosis and clinical intervention. We believe this work will also inform public policy and community education aimed at reducing the burden of children's asthma," Balshaw said.

The three new centers are:

  • Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore; Patrick N. Breysse, Ph. D. Exit NIEHS Website( Breysse and his collaborators will form a new DISCOVER Center called the Center for Childhood Asthma in the Urban Environment. This group will examine how indoor and outdoor exposures to particulate matter and allergens may impact the airways of asthmatic children. African-American children living in inner cities often are disproportionately impacted by asthma because of excessive indoor and outdoor pollutants. The researchers will be working closely with the family members and others in the community as they conduct this research.
  • Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York; Frederica Perera, Dr. P.H. Exit NIEHS Website( Perera and her collaborators will focus their research efforts Exit NIEHS Website( on determining when and how common air pollutants from traffic and other combustion sources including diesel exhaust can affect the lungs of children. The Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health DISCOVER grant proposes to develop community partnerships and outreach to regulatory policy for improved disease prevention, as well as develop biomarkers of exposure and disease progression and improved therapies for children's asthma based on understanding environmental exposures.
  • University of Washington, Seattle; Joel Kaufman, M.D. Exit NIEHS Website( Kaufman and colleagues will focus their research efforts on understanding the impact of traffic-related air pollution on cardiovascular disease. Specifically, the program will seek to increase understanding of biological pathways related to inflammation and vascular dysfunction from air pollutants and progression of cardiovascular disease. The ultimate translation of this program will potentially advance therapy and cardiovascular disease prevention through educational outreach opportunities to both the medical and public health communities.

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