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Research Grants

NIEHS/EPA CEHCs: Perinatal Exposures, Epigenetics, Child Obesity and Sexual Maturation - University of Michigan


The chemicals, nutrients, and other factors developing children are exposed to in the womb can have lasting health impacts in later life. At this Children’s Center, scientists are seeking to understand how early exposure to chemicals such as lead, bisphenol A (BPA), and phthalates affects growth and sexual development during childhood and adolescence and the risk for diseases in adulthood. Children’s weight and the timing of their sexual development can affect their risk for diseases in adulthood, including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.

Researchers at this center are studying the health effect of early life exposures in a group of 200 adolescents who are part of a long term study, from before birth to the present, as their mothers are enrolled in the study while they were pregnant. The researchers strive to communicate their findings to scientists, local communities and the public so that their research may inform future research and public health efforts.

Center Website: University of Michigan Formative Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center Exit

Research Projects

Research Project 1: Prenatal Exposures, Early Childhood Growth, and Sexual Maturation
In this project, researchers examine how exposure to lead in the womb and immediately after birth affects the activity of four genes that play a key role in regulating growth and maturation. Researchers are also tracking how lead exposure is related to obesity and sexual development. This project draws upon data from the Early Life Exposures in Mexico to Environmental Toxicants (ELEMENT) study which includes 200 children and teens that have been followed from before birth to the present.

Project Leader: Karen E. Peterson, D.Sc., University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Pilot Project 1: In Utero Lead Exposure: Fetal Epigenonrie and Life-Course Physiologic Effects
Lead is widely known as the cause of many health problems in adults, but its effects on children are even more drastic. After exposure to lead in the womb, many children face severe developmental problems and diseases later in life. In this project, scientists are studying mice to trace the effects of early lead exposure on attributes like body fat, physical activity, food intake, and hormonal balances throughout life. Researchers also look at how lead exposure might affect which genes are turned “on” or “off” at critical periods in development, contributing to different health outcomes later in life.

Project Leader: Dana Dolinoy, Ph.D., University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Pilot Project 2: Impacts of Life-stage Exposures to BPA and Phthalates on Growth and Development
There is recent evidence that exposure to BPA and phthalates, endocrine disrupting chemicals used in plastics, personal care products, and other consumer goods may be associated with adverse effects on fetal and child growth and development. This is of particular concern since most people, including pregnant women and children, are routinely exposed to these compounds on a daily basis. This pilot project examines the associations between exposure to BPA and phthalates in the womb and health outcomes during adolescence. BPA and phthalate concentrations were measured in urine samples collected from 150 women during pregnancy, and in urine samples collected years later from their children during adolescence. Researchers are looking at possible relationships between exposure and birth outcome measures, weight and weight gain in early childhood, and between early-life or adolescent exposures and stages of sexual maturation and serum levels of hormones relevant to weight/weight gain and pubertal development. The researchers also aim to determine modifiable behaviors or product use associated with increased BPA and phthalate exposure in adolescence to inform exposure and risk reduction approaches.

Project Leader: John Meeker, Sc.D., University of Michigan at Ann Arbor


Primary Environmental Exposures: Lead, Bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates
Primary Health Outcomes: Birth outcomes, child weight gain/status, body composition, activity patterns, hormonal levels, sexual maturation