NIEHS Grant to Support New Research on How Environmental Exposures Affect Human Health

With the renewal of a major federal grant, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s NIEHS Center for Environmental Health will focus on a broad new objective—the exploration of how a wide variety of environmental exposures affect human health. The $10.2 million grant will provide the 55-year-old Center with another five years of funding to encourage new science, foster collaboration, and support centralized resources for environmental health research. This is important news for investigators across HSPH, and particularly for researchers in Biostatistics currently working on statistical methods to quantify and characterize the combined health effects of complex exposures.

In the past the Center supported the landmark Six Cities Study, led by former Center director Doug Dockery and others including the late Jim Ware, which found a strong link between pollution and mortality risk. The new award will propel research that incorporates new kinds of data and methods for analyzing complex systems.  One example of this is the expertise provided by Associate Professor of Biostatistics, Jukka-Pekka Onnela, in using smartphone data and technology to help detect environmental exposures and analyze human behaviors. Another new area of focus will include the microbiome, which can be broadly affected by environmental exposures. The awarding of this grant is particularly important during a time when environmental regulation has been reduced, the EPA has been cut back, and new environmental hazards are being introduced. According to Dockery, “it provides us some assurance that we’re going to be able to move forward over the next five years.”  To learn more about the new work of the Center, see this recent article in the Harvard Kiosk.