NIH Awards ACHRI $400,000-Plus to Explore How Water Pollutant Affects Neurologic and Immune Development

LITTLE ROCK, AR. (Oct. 13, 2010) – Scientists at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) are looking at how a common water pollutant may harm neurologic and immune system development with a $404,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Research has shown that trichloroethylene (TCE) is present in low levels in as much as 34 percent of the American drinking water supply. This pollutant is an industrial solvent that was accidentally introduced to water supplies decades ago through improper disposal. ACHRI researchers believe that exposure to traces of TCE during fetal, neonatal and early childhood development may have an impact on both neurologic and immune functions. Their study will explore possible links between exposure and neurologic/immune problems common in autism spectrum disorders, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and attention deficit disorders.

“There is considerable crosstalk between our immune and neurologic systems during early development,” said the study’s principal investigator, Sarah Blossom, PhD, an ACHRI researcher and an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). “But no one is really sure how exposure to low levels of pollutants like TCE affects that. We do know that children are a population very vulnerable to these environmental stressors.”

Because infants and children have immature immune and neurologic systems, they’re more susceptible to the effects of even small amounts of pollutants. This is a concern because recent studies have detected TCE in as much as 7 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 10 years. TCE has a short life once inside the human body, however, so scientists believe actual exposure levels are likely much higher.

The study will take place at ACHRI over two years, and will explore TCE’s effects on three periods of growth and development. Blossom hopes that the outcome will lay the foundation for developing new methods to address linked neurologic and immune problems.

“This work could lead us to screening, therapy and prevention protocols,” Blossom said. “And it could help us move toward better clean-up strategies so fewer children are exposed to pollutants like TCE.”

Preliminary studies to support the project were funded in part by the Arkansas Biosciences Institute, the major research component of the Tobacco Settlement Proceeds 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. The campus spans 28 city blocks and houses 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. ACH recently ranked No. 85 on FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For®. 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 Related Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a 540,000-square-foot hospital; a statewide network of regional centers; and six 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 and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is the state’s only Level 1 trauma center. UAMS has 2,836 students and 761 medical residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit www.uams.edu or www.uamshealth.com .

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