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Research Grants

NIEHS/EPA Children’s Environmental Health Centers Center for the Study of Childhood Asthma in the Urban Environment (CCAUE)

Institution: The Johns Hopkins University
Center Director: Nadia Hansel, M.D., M.P.H.
Project Period: July 2015 – June 2019

Research Questions

Project 1: Are overweight and obese children more susceptible to air pollution compared to lean children?
Project 2: What is the relationship between air pollution, body weight and asthma in children?
Project 3: How does obesity worsen the effects of air pollution on asthma?

Keywords: Air Pollution, Asthma, Epigenetics, Health Disparities, Obesity


More than 7 million children in the United States have asthma, a chronic disease that causes coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and trouble breathing. Rates of both asthma and obesity have risen over the past three decades, affecting millions of children in the U.S., especially low-income minority children in urban areas. The goal of this center is to understand how exposure to air pollution causes high rates of asthma in the inner city. Previous research has shown that obese children with asthma are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. This center aims to provide evidence to support these findings in inner city African American children – a population that suffers more from both asthma and obesity than other populations. Results from this study will inform clinical practices and health care policies aimed at reducing asthma rates in inner city children.

Project Abstract and Annual Reports: Center for the Study of Childhood Asthma in the Urban Environment (CCAUE)

Research Projects

Project 1: Investigating Obesity as a Susceptibility Factor for Air Pollution in Childhood Asthma

This project is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, grant number 2P50ES018176-06

Low-income, minority children in urban areas that are at highest risk for asthma and obesity also have greater exposure to air pollution. Evidence suggest that these three factors – asthma, obesity and air pollution – may be linked. Recent studies have found that obese children are more susceptible to the effects of air pollution and these effects are magnified in children with asthma. This project aims to confirm these findings with more evidence.

Project Leaders: Meredith McCormack, M.D., Johns Hopkins University

Project 2: Novel Exposure Metrics for Assessing the Effects of Ultrafine and Fine Particulate Matter on Asthma and Children

This project is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, grant number 2P50ES018176-06

Particulate matter (PM) is a specific type of air pollution that is known to worsen asthma symptoms in children. There are many ways to measure PM, such as size, shape and chemical composition of the particles, but it is unclear which measurement is most relevant to respiratory health. This project is studying the smallest type of PM, called fine and ultrafine particles (UFP), to evaluate the effects of PM on overweight children with asthma.

Project Leaders: Kirsten Koehler, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University

Project 3: The Role of Obesity in Biological Responses to Particulate Matter in Mice
There is evidence that obesity may worsen the effects of air pollution on asthma. However, the biological mechanisms behind this association are poorly understood. Obesity also influences obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is highly associated with asthma in children. Preliminary studies suggest that obesity and sleep apnea interact with air pollution to exacerbate asthma. This project is using mice to study the interactions of air pollution, sleep apnea and obesity.

Project Leader: Vsevolod Y. Polotsky, M.D., Johns Hopkins University