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Gray and Lawler attend children's environmental health symposium

By Robin Arnette
December 2010

Kimberly  Gray, Ph.D.
Gray oversees the extramural grant portfolio on perinatal and pediatric epidemiology. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Cindy Lawler, Ph.D.
Lawler oversees the extramural grant portfolio on autism and autism spectrum disorders. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Since children's health research is one of the top priorities for NIEHS, two scientists from the Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) recently attended a symposium that focused on the affects of environmental toxins on early life development.

Kimberly Gray, Ph.D., and Cindy Lawler, Ph.D., both scientific program administrators for the NIEHS Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research (, participated in panel discussions at the Sixth Biennial Scientific Symposium sponsored by the Children's Environmental Health Institute ( Exit NIEHS. Held Oct. 21-22 at the Space Center Houston in Texas, the symposium titled "Prenatal and Early Life Exposures: How Environmental Toxins Affect the Course of Childhood" addressed the competing roles of genetic and environmental factors in the causation of childhood diseases.

Gray served on a government perspective panel titled "Early Life Exposure: The Search for Cause and Effect, from the Laboratory to Surveillance." She and other panel participants discussed several topics, such as how the National Environmental Public Health Tracking (EPHT) Network protects communities from adverse health effects; the level of cooperation between NASA, the CDC, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in monitoring environmental public health; how the NIEHS Centers for Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention translates its findings to clinical and public health professionals and policy makers; and the purpose and benefits of the National Children's Study.

"I really enjoyed [the panel]," Gray said. "Participants appeared engaged and interested in learning more about the science because they asked good questions."

Gray stressed that the goals of the NIEHS children's environmental health centers are to "stimulate research on the role of environment in the etiology of disease/dysfunction among children, develop novel effective intervention and prevention strategies, and promote the translation of basic research into applied intervention and prevention methods." However, disseminating information about the research is the center's main objective, when she and other center representatives attend professional meetings.

Lawler's panel was titled "The Role of Environmental Factors in the Etiology of Autism Spectrum Disorder," and the discussions centered on why autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States and how toxins and other environmental triggers may contribute to the pathophysiology of the disorder.

Lawler explained that autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of complex neurodevelopmental syndromes that are diagnosed by impairments in communication and social interaction, along with restrictive patterns of behavior or interest. The Institute's Autism ( Web page details the variety of research that NIEHS supports.

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