Dartmouth Receives $2 Million Grant for Children’s Health Research Center


Dartmouth recently received a $2 million pilot grant to fund the new Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center at Dartmouth. The grant is jointly funded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). Dartmouth’s is one of six emerging centers nationally that are undertaking interdisciplinary research to assist public health professionals and policy makers in combating children’s diseases caused by environment pollutants.

Provost Carol Folt (left) and Professor Margaret Karagas are associate director and director, respectively, of the new Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center at Dartmouth. The center is working to understand the effects of arsenic exposure—even at low levels—on the health of mothers and children.  (photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)

“Our nascent center will help advance our research on understanding the possible consequences of arsenic exposure on maternal and child health,” says Margaret Karagas, the center’s director and a professor of community and family medicine in epidemiology at Dartmouth Medical School (DMS). “In particular, it will allow us to gain critical insights on the effects of arsenic exposure on fetal growth and development as well as a mother’s and infant’s susceptibility to infection.”

Populations around the world whose drinking water is highly contaminated with arsenic show increased incidences of low birth weight, fetal losses, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, says Karagas. However, she points out, “We don’t yet know what levels of arsenic are safe. In our studies of cancer risks in New Hampshire, we’ve seen evidence that relatively low levels of exposure may have adverse health effects.”

The fetal and neonatal period represent an especially vulnerable window of exposure, and there is a growing awareness that exposures early in life can influence children’s health as well as the risk of adult onset diseases. “In rural areas such ours, we are concerned about people who rely on unregulated private water supplies for their homes,” Karagas adds. “They may not be aware of the need to test their water for arsenic and other contaminants.”

“Our new center brings together a diverse group of outstanding investigators, drawing on Dartmouth’s strength in research and ease of bridging disciplines, departments, and schools,” says Provost Carol Folt, associate director of the center and the Dartmouth Professor of Biological Sciences. “The reviewers also praised the center for bringing new scientists into this critical public health research area and pairing them with established mentors to ensure their success.”

The center builds on the work of Dartmouth’s highly interdisciplinary Toxic Metals Research group, which conducts leading research on toxic metals, including arsenic and mercury. Since its formation in 1995, the group has received research grants totaling over $40 million from the NIEHS’s Superfund Research Program.

Additional leaders of the Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center at Dartmouth are:

  • Children’s Health Specialist: John B. Moeschler, director of the Clinical Genetics Program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
  • Center Coordinator and Community Engagement Specialist: Vicki Sayarath, research director for the Section of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at Dartmouth Medical School
  • Associate Children’s Health Specialist: Stephanie Miller, program manager of the New Hampshire Birth Conditions Program
The Children’s Environmental Disease and Prevention Center at Dartmouth hosted its first External Scientific Advisory Meeting on campus in September 2010. The center brings together a diverse group of investigators. (photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)

Center investigators include: Kathryn Cottingham (biological sciences); Tracy Punshon (biological sciences); Xun Shi (geography); Judy Rees (biochemistry and community and family medicine, DMS); Tracy Onega (community and family medicine, DMS); Jiang Gui (community and family medicine, DMS); Richard Enelow (medicine and microbiology and immunology, DMS); David Robbins (University of Miami); and Susan Korrick (Harvard University). Larry Paoletti (Harvard University) and Donna Spiegelman (Harvard University) are consultants on the center, which also benefits from the guidance of an advisory committee of prominent environmental scientists.

Dartmouth will use the initial grant to develop and strengthen the center’s research programs, community and professional outreach, and translation and mentoring activities.  After three years, Dartmouth will be eligible to apply for additional, longer- term funding and recognition as an established children’s center.

Written by Tiffany Pollack ’10 and Sarah Memmi

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