New research program to focus on environmental health and child development

October 13, 2010 — Harvard School of Public Health has been awarded a four-year, $11 million grant from the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences to establish a Superfund Research Program. This network of university- based research projects is designed to seek solutions to the complex health and environmental issues associated with the nation’s hazardous waste sites. The HSPH program includes research projects focused on children’s environmental health, building on the Department of Environmental Health’s existing work on toxic metal exposure and neurodevelopment through cohorts established by Robert Wright, the overall principal investigator, in Tar Creek, Oklahoma, and Mexico City. A new study on child development also will be conducted in Bangladesh to look at arsenic toxicity from exposure to drinking water. By pooling and analyzing the results from all three studies, the researchers will be able to see if combinations of metals are more toxic than individual metals, and determine genetic factors that modify metal toxicity.

These research questions have not yet been studied in humans, says Wright, a pediatrician and associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health. Additional projects will look at toxico-genomic models of metal toxicity and metal movements in the environment. The projects ultimately aim to translate the findings into risk assessment models, and possibly a software package, that government agencies can use to evaluate hazardous waste sites. Wright also hopes that developing a greater understanding of how metals affect the body will lead to improvements in disease prevention and treatment of children who have been exposed to toxic metals.

Learn more about Wright’s work: Couple’s Combined Expertise Forges New Directions for Treatment (Harvard Public Health Review)