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New Research Program Will Study Long-Term Impact of Environmental Exposures in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

NEW YORK (September 21, 2016) – Judy Aschner, M.D., physician-in-chief, The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM) and professor of Pediatrics, Michael I. Cohen, M.D. University Chair, Albert Einstein College of Medicine has been awarded $5.3 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of a seven-year initiative called Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO), which will fund leading researchers around the country to investigate a broad range of exposures that can impact children’s long-term health. Dr. Aschner’s research will focus on how exposure to chemicals in Neonatal Intensive Care Units, such as phthalates which are used in plastic medical equipment, are associated with adverse health outcomes.

"Each year, more than 300,000 preterm infants in the United States are admitted to NICUs, where they are exposed to a chemical-intensive hospital environment," said Dr. Aschner. "The outstanding care provided in NICUs throughout the country allows many critically ill babies to grow, thrive and go home with their families, however it is crucial that we gain a better understanding of the long-term impact of exposure to various environmental factors, to help ensure children have the best health possible throughout the rest of their lives."

Dr. Aschner is a nationally recognized physician-scientist and neonatologist. This research study, entitled "Developmental Impact of NICU Exposures (DINE)," will examine how children’s lung function, cognitive and motor development, growth and onset of puberty are impacted due to environmental exposures in NICUs.

Previous research published by Dr. Aschner has shown that critically ill newborns who receive intravenous nutritional supplements in the NICU are exposed to 100 times the daily amount of manganese, an essential trace metal, compared to those receiving a human milk diet, which could contribute to risk of adverse health and behavioral health outcomes later in life. Building off of this research, Dr. Aschner’s team will now measure the impact of NICU-based phthalate exposure and stress exposures at ages three to 10 years-old, in addition to further investigating the impact of manganese on neurodevelopmental outcomes in children born prematurely.

Dr. Aschner will collaborate with Susan L Teitelbaum, Ph.D., an environmental epidemiologist and co-principal investigator, and Annemarie Stroustrup, M.D., a neonatologist and co-investigator at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and with co-investigators around the country to recruit approximately 1,000 children at 15 geographically diverse clinical sites, who were born prematurely and were cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit after birth.

This grant, which will fund the first two years of the research program, is part of a total $157 million awarded by the NIH to researchers in fiscal year 2016. A critical component of ECHO will be to use the NIH-funded Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) program to build state-of-the art pediatric clinical research networks in rural and medically underserved areas, so that children from these communities can participate in clinical trials. 

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

The grant is titled "Developmental Impact of NICU Exposures (DINE)" (UG3 OD023320).

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