Brailey, Moreira, and Rammah headshots
From left to right: Brailey, Moreira, and Rammah. (Photo courtesy of MIEHR)

The Maternal and Infant Environmental Health Riskscape (MIEHR) Research Center is beginning their 2022-2023 pilot projects. Early-career investigators will conduct research related to environmental health disparities among mothers and their children.

Through this initiative, MIEHR mentors post-doctoral fellows, clinical fellows, and junior faculty in developing their grant applications, working on their research projects, and using their results to reduce health disparities.

Improving Black Mother’s Health

Led by Carla Brailey, Ph.D., a team at Texas Southern University is studying how structural racism and environmental stressors affect Black mothers’ health. Their goal is to develop a research framework, called the Black Maternal Health Care Model, to offer effective strategies to reduce disparities related to Black maternal morbidity and mortality rates.

To inform their strategies, the researchers are conducting focus groups with Black mothers, community and faith leaders, elected officials, and health practitioners in Houston communities with high morbidity and mortality rates.

Protecting Newborns from Harmful Exposures

Baylor College of Medicine researchers are exploring how exposure to plasticizers used in medical equipment can harm infant health. The team, led by Axel Moreira, M.D., focuses on a plasticizer, diethylhexyl phthalate, and its metabolite, monoethylhexyl phthalate, known to leach from medical device tubing used during cardiopulmonary surgery.

The scientists hope to determine if phthalate exposure can increase the duration of heart and lung problems and impact the immune system, harming newborns’ health. They are also considering social and demographic variables to see if they play a role in risk of developing disease.

Understanding the Role of Structural Racism on Risk of Stillbirth

Amal Rammah, Ph.D., and colleagues at the Baylor College of Medicine aim to understand the contributions of structural racism in racial disparities in stillbirth — the loss of a baby at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Specifically, they are examining the role of mass incarceration and segregation on stillbirth rates in Harris County, Texas.

The team is evaluating the effects of mass incarceration and neighborhood residential segregation on the risk of stillbirth and whether there is a difference between Black and White mothers. They seek enhanced understanding of how structural racism and discrimination may contribute to health disparities.