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Your Environment. Your Health.

Northeastern University

Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development in Puerto Rico (CRECE)

Center Overview

Center Location: Boston, MA

Public Health Impacts: Scientists want to know more about how fetal and childhood development may be harmed by exposure to multiple chemicals in the environment, especially when accompanied by factors like stress. Studies within the Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development in Puerto Rico (CRECE) will provide novel information on the impacts of multiple exposures, with relevance to both the underserved population of Puerto Rico, and mainland U.S.

Primary Environmental Exposures: Multiple pollutants and pollutant mixtures, including air pollutants, water pollutants, phthalates, volatile organic compounds, phenols, parabens, and other chemicals of emerging concern

Primary Health Outcomes: Prenatal and early childhood health and development, preterm birth

Center Details

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Center Investigators

Principal Investigators: Akram N. Alshawabkeh, Ph.D.

Project 1 Leader: Helen Suh MacIntosh, Sc.D.

Project 2 Leader: April Z. Gu, Ph.D.

Project 3 Leader: John D. Meeker, Sc.D.

Community Outreach & Translation Core Leader: Phil Brown, Ph.D. and Carmen Milagros Velez Vega, Ph.D.

Center Description & Activities

CRECE studies the impact of mixtures of environmental contaminants and modifying factors on prenatal and early childhood health and development in an underserved, highly exposed population in Puerto Rico. CRECE leverages the rich dataset and infrastructure established in the NIEHS Superfund Research Program Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT) study and cohort to examine combined influences of multiple environmental, nutritional, and social factors. As part of the center, 600 children born to women in the PROTECT study are being followed from birth until age 4 to determine the impacts of combined environmental and social factors on their health and development.

Project 1: Air Pollution Impacts on Neonatal and Early Childhood Development

Project Leader: Helen Suh MacIntosh, Sc.D.

Researchers are investigating the impact of prenatal and early childhood exposure to air pollution on adverse birth outcomes, early childhood cognitive function, social/motor development, and respiratory health. They are also studying how these effects are mediated by individual risk factors such as socioeconomic status, maternal stress, preterm birth, and in utero exposures to other chemicals and mixtures.

Project 2: Toxicogenomics-based Mechanistic Multimedia Exposure Assessment and Child Development

Project Leader: April Z. Gu, Ph.D.

In this project, researchers are investigating the impacts of exposure to complex pollutant mixtures in air and water on pathways relevant to neonatal and early childhood development in Puerto Rico. This involves using high-throughput toxicogenomics screening to obtain pathway- and sample-specific exposure markers and looking for biological markers of toxicity, such as oxidative stress, DNA damage, and inflammation. Researchers are also identifying pollutants most responsible for eliciting the observed pathway-specific toxicity impacts.

Project 3: Biomarker Epidemiology of in Utero Environmental Exposures and Child Development

Project Leader: John D. Meeker, Sc.D.

In this project, researchers are investigating the impact that prenatal exposure to environmental phenols and parabens have on pregnancy outcomes and child development, particularly preterm birth, fetal and child growth, feeding, reproductive development, neurodevelopment, and lung function. Phenol and paraben exposures are being estimated using urinary biomarkers obtained from multiple time points during pregnancy. Researchers are also exploring biological mechanisms or susceptibility factors that may mediate the relationship between early life exposures to phenols and parabens on fetal and child development.

Community Outreach & Translation Core

Core Leader: Phil Brown, Ph.D. and Carmen Milagros Velez Vega, Ph.D. 

Serving as the public interface for CRECE, the Community Outreach and Translation Core (COTC) brings together project participants, residents, government agencies, researchers, and community organizations to improve communication and practice focused on children’s environmental health for study participants and Puerto Rico. COTC members report back individual data to study participants and collaborate with state and federal agencies to develop environmental health outreach and education programs to advocate for children’s environmental health. They are also establishing and expanding relationships within medical and public health communities to build environmental health capacity among health-care professionals and public health staff.

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