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Research Grants

NIEHS/EPA Children’s Environmental Health Centers Center for Children’s Health, the Environment, the Microbiome and Metabolomics (C-CHEM2)

Institution: Emory University
Center Director: Linda McCauley, Ph.D., R.N.
Project Period: July 2015 – June 2019

Research Questions

Project 1: How do environmental exposures impact pregnancy and infant health?
Project 2: How do environmental exposures influence the infant gut microbiome and childhood brain development?
Project 3: How do environmental exposures and the microbiome interact to contribute to preterm birth and brain development?

Keywords: Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, Health Disparities, Immune System, Microbiome, Neurodevelopment, Prenatal Exposures, Preterm Birth, Stress


Preterm birth and neurodevelopmental delay carry lifelong consequences for children and their families. Preterm birth is defined as a birth that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy and can include complications such as immature lungs and slow weight gain. Neurodevelopmental delay is a term used to describe an underdeveloped brain, which can interfere with motor development, vision, hand-eye coordination and perceptual skills of the child. Neither preterm birth nor neurodevelopmental delay are distributed equally within the U.S. population. Compared to those of other races, African Americans experience higher rates of preterm birth and neurodevelopmental delay. Exposures to environmental toxicants is also more common among African American families. This center is characterizing environmental exposures to African American women during pregnancy and their infants. Researchers are then defining the relationship between these environmental exposures and health. Researchers believe that environmental exposures during pregnancy and infancy work together with the microbiome and the immune system to influence brain development.

Project Abstract and Annual Reports:  Center for Children’s Health, the Environment, Microbiome, and Metabolomics

Research Projects

Project 1: Characterizing Exposures and Outcomes in an Urban Birth Cohort
Preterm birth is defined as a birth that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy and can include complications such as immature lungs and slow weight gain. Compared to those of other races, African Americans particularly those of the Southeastern U.S., experience higher rates of preterm birth. This project is measuring environmental exposures to pregnant African American women and their infants. Investigators will focus on exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the home environment and the impact on preterm birth. EDCs are found in many household products and interfere with the body’s natural hormones to produce negative health effects.

Project Leaders: Dana Barr, Ph.D., Emory University

Project 2: Microbiome, Environment and Neurodevelopmental Delay
Compared to infants of other races, African American infants are more likely to be exposed to environmental toxicants, to be born preterm and to reside in poverty. African American infants are also less likely to be breastfed. These disparities translate into negative effects on brain function. There is growing evidence that the microbiome is an important contributor to brain development. However, the impact of environmental exposures on the microbiome remain unknown. This project is collecting data on the infant microbiome and on brain development to examine the association between environmental exposures during pregnancy and brain function in African American infants.

Project Leaders: Ashley Darcy-Mahoney, Ph.D., R.N., Emory University

Project 3: Metabolic, Microbiome and Toxicant-Related Interactions
Most diseases do not have a single cause but rather develop from exposure to multiple factors that interact to influence individual susceptibility. Failure to consider these multiple and complex interactions reduces the ability of health care providers to prevent and treat disease. This project tests for complex interactions that contribute to negative cognitive, behavioral and emotional outcomes.

Project Leader: Dean P. Jones, Ph.D., Emory University