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Your Environment. Your Health.

University of California, Berkeley

UC Berkeley/Stanford Children’s Environmental Health Center

Center Overview

Center Location: San Joaquin Valley of Fresno, California

Public Health Impacts: The San Joaquin Valley includes many low-income communities and air pollution concentrations often exceed state and federal air quality standards. The UC Berkeley/Stanford Children’s Environmental Health Center strives to understand and reduce air pollution exposure for children in the San Joaquin Valley, and to sustain active partnerships with community organizations that prioritize environmental health.

Primary Environmental Exposures: Ambient air pollutants, endotoxins

Primary Health Outcomes: Asthma, preterm birth, birth defects, immune system development, obesity

Center Details

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Center Investigators

Principal Investigators: Katharine Hammond, Ph.D. 

Pediatric Health Specialist: John R. Balmes, M.D. 
Specialties: Respiratory health effects of air pollutants

Project 1 Leader: Gary M. Shaw, Ph. D. 

Project 2 Leader: Kari Nadeau, M.D., Ph.D. 

Project 3 Leader: John R. Balmes, M.D. 

Community Outreach & Translation Core Leader: Jennifer K. Mann, Ph.D 

Center Description & Activities

The UC Berkeley/Stanford Children's Environment Health Center is conducting the Children’s Health and Air Pollution Study (CHAPS) to better understand how exposure to ambient air pollutants leads to health problems such as allergies, obesity, glucose dysfunction, birth defects, and premature birth. Center researchers use data on more than 300,000 births in California’s San Joaquin Valley, a fast-growing region with some of the highest levels of air pollutants in the country. The mountains that surround the area on three sides can trap air pollutants in the valley.

Center members, who include investigators from California State University Fresno and the University of California San Francisco in Fresno, focus on exposure to the common urban air pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Project 1 (Shaw): Exposure to Air Pollutants, Modifying Genes, and Risk of Birth Defects

Project Leader: Gary M. Shaw, Ph. D. 

By studying people living in the San Joaquin Valley, this project investigates the relationship between ambient air pollutants and increased risk of birth defects and preterm birth by examining the gene-environment interactions between specific air pollutants and gene variants. The researchers are also examining whether ambient exposures to PAHs during critical periods of pregnancy are associated with preterm delivery. They are also investigating whether the built environment, which refers to human-made physical surroundings, is associated with preterm birth, either directly or indirectly, through a joint effect with ambient air pollution.

Project 2 (Nadeau): Mechanisms of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon-linked Immunopathogene

Project Leader: Kari Nadeau, M.D., Ph.D. 

The researchers are working to determine the molecular mechanisms by which immune dysregulation leads to allergic disorders in children exposed to high levels of PAHs. This work could help to inform public policy changes that reduce or prevent exposures at critical ages and help determine the extent to which the changes induced by PAH exposures on the immune system might lead to allergic disorders.

Project 3 (Balmes): Obesity/Glucose Dysregulation Project

Project Leader: John R. Balmes, M.D. 

This project examines how ambient air pollution contributes to the development of metabolic syndrome during childhood. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. The researchers are using detailed historical information, body measurements, and blood samples from children at different stages of development. They are also testing the utility of selected biological indicators, or biomarkers, for identifying children at risk for metabolic syndrome.

Community Outreach & Translation Core (Mann)

Core leader: Jennifer K. Mann, Ph.D 

The Community Outreach and Translation Core (COTC) develops, implements, and evaluates strategies to translate the results of center research projects into information for use by study participants, stakeholders, policy makers, and health care providers to better protect children from the adverse health effects of environmental hazards. The COTC outreach and communication strategy takes advantage of the interest of multiple stakeholders in air quality, asthma, and childhood development to engage them in a dialogue.