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Research Grants

NIEHS/EPA Children’s Environmental Health Centers Center for Integrative Research on Childhood Leukemia and the Environment (CIRCLE)

Institution: University of California, Berkeley (Metayer)
Center Director: Catherine Metayer, M.D., Ph.D.
Project Period: July 2015 – June 2019

Research Questions

Project 1: How do chemical exposures during pregnancy impact immune system development and risk of childhood leukemia?
Project 2: How do specific chemical exposures during pregnancy impact child development to increase risk of leukemia?
Project 3: How do environmental factors impact the epigenome to increase risk of childhood leukemia?

Keywords: Cancer, Epigenetics, Health Disparities, Immune System, Prenatal Exposures


Leukemia is the most common childhood disease and the rate has been steadily increasing, especially in Latinos. This rapid increase strongly supports the role of the environmental factors in the disease. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is cancer of the blood and bone marrow and is the most common type of cancer in children. There is evidence that ALL often starts developing even before birth and exposure to environmental chemicals during pregnancy may contribute to the disease. The goal of this center is to identify the causes of ALL in an ethnically diverse population and understand how environmental factors increase risk.

Project Abstract and Annual Reports: Center for Integrative Research on Childhood Leukemia and the Environment
Center Website: The Center for Integrative Research on Childhood Leukemia and the Environment (CIRCLE) Exit

Research Projects

Project 1: Project 1: In Utero Chemical Exposures, Immune Status and Childhood Leukemia
Children with ALL tend to have more severe and sudden infections during the first year of life. One explanation is an abnormal programming of the immune system during fetal development. This project is evaluating the relationship between chemical exposures during pregnancy and the immune status of both the mother and the child.

Project Leaders: Catherine Metayer, M.D., Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

Project 2: Identifying In Utero Exposures that are Risk Factors for Childhood Leukemia
Because children generally present with childhood leukemia during the first five years of life, exposures during pregnancy are important in the development of the disease. This project is measuring chemical exposures in children with and without ALL. Investigators will characterize these chemical exposures to identify new risk factors for childhood ALL.

Project Leaders: Stephen Rappaport, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

Project 3: Prenatal Exposures, Constitutive Genetics, DNA Methylation and Childhood Leukemia
Leukemia is the most common cancer in children and though treatable in most cases, the disease leads to long-term illness. Preventing leukemia requires an understanding of its causes. Previous studies have found that childhood cancer cells are altered in the form of epigenetic changes, which are changes to gene expression but not to the gene itself. Environmental chemicals and dietary factors are known to cause epigenetic changes. This project is evaluating the role of these factors on the epigenome and childhood ALL.

Project Leader: Joseph Wiemels, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco