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ACHRI Scientists Receive $1.3 Million from NIH to Study How Pollutant Affects Children’s Developing Immune Systems

LITTLE ROCK, AR. (April 18, 2013) – The National Institutes of Health have awarded two Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) scientists $1.3 million to examine how children's developing immune systems are affected by a pollutant that has been common in American water systems for decades.

Kathleen Gilbert, PhD, and Sarah Blossom, PhD, have received the four-year grant to study how chronic low exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE) during prenatal, infant and childhood development may contribute to autoimmune diseases like diabetes, lupus and autoimmune hepatitis later in life.

TCE is an industrial solvent accidentally introduced to water supplies decades ago through improper disposal. It is still present in many sources of ground water, some of which are used for drinking in the United States. Studies have shown that TCE can be detected in as much as 10 percent of the American population that is not exposed to TCE in the workplace.

The team has proven the link between TCE and autoimmune disease in the past. NIH has previously funded Dr. Gilbert's work exploring the effects of TCE on adults and how continuous exposure at higher levels triggered autoimmune responses. NIH also supported Dr. Blossom's research into developmental windows of low-level exposure to TCE during gestation and infancy.

"Our new research will really focus on how this chemical is programming the immune systems of our children," said Gilbert, who is also a professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Medicine. "Levels of TCE that in adults may not be dangerous may still cause disease in children, at least at some point in their lives."

Gilbert and Blossom, an assistant professor of Pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine, hope that the research will provide more information on how to counteract biological changes that TCE exposure causes.

"If exposure can't be prevented, at least maybe we can try and reverse the effects," Blossom said. "We hope to find that there are dietary and nutritional interventions that can block this."

Preliminary studies to support this project were funded in part by the Arkansas Biosciences Institute, the major research component of the Tobacco Settlement Processed Act of 2000.

Arkansas Children's Hospital is the only pediatric medical center in Arkansas and one of the largest in the United States serving children from birth to age 21. Over the past century, ACH has grown to span 29 city blocks and house 316 beds, a staff of approximately 500 physicians, 80 residents in pediatrics and pediatric specialties and more than 4,000 employees. The private, nonprofit healthcare facility boasts an internationally renowned reputation for medical breakthroughs and intensive treatments, unique surgical procedures and forward-thinking medical research - all dedicated to fulfilling our mission of enhancing, sustaining and restoring children's health and development. For more information, visit www.archildrens.org.

ACHRI provides a research environment on the ACH campus to meet the needs of the UAMS faculty. Research scientists at ACHRI conduct clinical, basic science, and health services research for the purpose of treating illnesses, preventing disease and improving the health of children everywhere.

UAMS is the state's only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a statewide network of regional centers; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute, the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and the Translational Research Institute. Named best Little Rock metropolitan area hospital by U.S. News & World Report, it is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has more than 2,800 students and 790 medical residents. It is the state's largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including about 1,000 physicians and other professionals who provide care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children's Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS regional centers throughout the state. Visit www.uams.edu or www.uamshealth.com.

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