Berkeley center wins $10 million grant as part of NIH initiative to research environmental influences on child health

September 21, 2016

children with ducks by pondThe National Institutes of Health today announced $157 million in awards in fiscal year 2016 to launch a seven-year initiative called Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO). The ECHO program will investigate how exposure to a range of environmental factors in early development—from conception through early childhood—influences the health of children and adolescents.

The UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health (CERCH) has been awarded $1.3 million for the first year of the grant. This award is a 7-year grant with a total value of $10.8 million. CERCH will serve as a Pediatric Cohort within ECHO, and will share a wealth of data from the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS) study, a 17-year plus longitudinal birth cohort study in Salinas Valley that examines chemicals and other factors in the environment and children’s health. The CHAMACOS study will also continue for the duration of the grant.

“We look forward to following the CHAMACOS children of Salinas into adulthood—many of whom we have followed from early in their mother's pregnancies,” says Professor Brenda Eskenazi, director of CERCH and principal investigator of CHAMACOS. “We hope to remain active members of this community, working to improve the health and wellbeing of Latino farmworker families in California.”

The pediatric cohort studies will analyze existing data as well as follow the children over time to address the early environmental origins of ECHO’s health outcome areas, including upper and lower airway; obesity; pre-, peri-, and postnatal outcomes; and neurodevelopment. Each cohort will participate with the others to combine data that are collected in a standardized way across the consortium.

“I am excited that CERCH will be part of this large consortium of U.S. birth cohorts,” says Eskenazi. “This endeavor will produce a rich data base and biorepository, cross-country collaborations available to many students and faculty, and important discoveries for many years to come.”

Operating out of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, CHAMACOS studies how early life exposure to pesticides in the Salinas Valley agricultural community is related to children’s growth, neurodevelopment, and general health. With the help of this grant, CHAMACOS will continue to study the impact of environmental factors on their participants as they transition out of childhood.

CHAMACOS research over the past 17 years has linked in utero organophosphate pesticide exposure to poorer attention and executive function, lower IQ, respiratory symptoms, and poorer lung function at school-age. Now, as those children approach ages of adulthood, CHAMACOS will probe the origins of adult disease, researching the early pesticide exposure’s impact on neurobehavioral endpoints, respiratory symptoms and function, body mass, and related metabolic and cardiovascular conditions.

Following in the tradition of the former National Children’s Study, ECHO aims to learn more about the effects of environmental exposures on child health development by appropriating existing studies and research. Access to the rare breadth and depth of data on the specific cohort involved in CHAMACOS research to ECHO’s collective resources will significantly contribute to ECHO’s mission.

“Every baby should have the best opportunity to remain healthy and thrive throughout childhood,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins. “ECHO will help us better understand the factors that contribute to optimal health in children.”

By Jaron Zanerhaft

Related information