Rates of many chronic diseases in our children are increasing – in some cases dramatically. Child asthma rates in the United States have more than doubled in the past three decades. Neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD, dyslexia and mental retardation now affect one in six children. One child in 110 is affected by autism. Childhood leukemia and brain cancer have increased in incidence by 40 percent since 1970. Childhood obesity has tripled in frequency and is triggering an epidemic of many of diabetes.
Strong evidence links toxic environmental exposures in early life – during “windows of developmental vulnerability” – to these disease trends. Air pollution, for example, is now well established as a cause of asthma. Lead, methyl mercury, PCBS and certain pesticides are linked to neurodevelopmental disabilities. Growing evidence suggests also that toxic exposures in early life may be linked to such adult illnesses as heart disease, breast, prostate and testicular cancer, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. Despite these research advances, far too little is known about environmental causes of disease. There is a pressing need for more extensive research in this area and for the development of preventive measures and treatments for these devastating illnesses.
The mission of the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center (CEHC) is to address this challenge – to protect children from toxic chemicals in their air, their water, and their food by spearheading efforts to track the root environmental causes of disease. The Center’s research builds on over three decades of work by its director Philip J. Landrigan, MD, MSc, a renowned pediatrician and epidemiologist who has devoted his career to protecting children against environmental threats to health.
Under Dr. Landrigan’s leadership, CEHC is working on a series of ambitious projects dealing with some of the most pressing issues in children’s environmental health. Projects include:
Pilot Project Research Program: CEHC supports the best and the brightest research initiatives in children’s environmental health across the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Using a “venture capital” approach to research, we support research into the environmental causation of asthma, autism, learning disabilities, obesity and diabetes. Eight these pilot studies have garnered over $6.125 million in federal grants to further our research.
Autism and Learning Disabilities Discovery and Prevention Project: To discover the preventable environmental causes of autism and learning disabilities, CEHC launched the Autism and Learning Disabilities Discovery and Prevention Project in May 2010. The first stage of this project will begin at CEHC’s scientific workshop, “Exploring the Environmental Causes of Autism and Learning Disabilities” on December 8.
National Children’s Study: CEHC holds a leadership role in the National Children’s Study, a multi-year, prospective, NIH-funded epidemiologic study that will follow 100,000 children from conception to age 21 to discover preventable environmental causes of childhood and adult diseases.
Initiatives in Global Health: Dr. Landrigan has worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) to train health professionals specializing in children’s environmental health in developing nations and to develop major epidemiologic studies of children’s health. As a result of these collaborations, Mount Sinai has been designated a Collaborating Center in Children’s Environmental Health by the WHO.