LITTLE ROCK, AR (July 08, 2020) – Pediatric researchers at Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI) have received more than $1.2 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a five-year study that looks at the impacts of exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE), an industrial solvent and common environmental pollutant.

TCE has contaminated many of the water systems in the U.S. and is among the most frequently detected U.S. EPA-regulated drinking water contaminant found in groundwater and surface water sources as well as Superfund sites, which are contaminated by hazardous materials. When TCE enters the body, it takes the form of its major metabolite (TCAH). The study will use this metabolite to test how TCE may alter immune cells associated with autoimmune disorders in humans.

Sarah Blossom, PhD, an associate professor of Pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Medicine, is the principal investigator for the project, which will continue through December 2024. She aims to uncover how TCE alters novel gene or epigenetic patterns in CD4 cells that may be responsible for these immune disorders.

“Exposure to environmental pollutants in our environment is common and can have significant health impacts on both children and adults. Our ultimate goal would be to use the findings to identify pathways for targeted therapy that would normalize immune responses in TCE-exposed individuals,” said Blossom.

Blossom’s past work has shown that the CD4+ T cell is central to autoimmune pathology. CD4+ T cells can become pro-inflammatory effector cells, which, once activated by TCAH, lead to autoimmunity and possibly other hypersensitivity disorders such as allergy.

Blossom and her team will study how TCAH alters CD4 cells. This study will use both in vitro (testing in tubes) and in vivo (testing on living organisms) methods to determine if TCAH promotes either the differentiation of pathogenic effector cells or decreases the expansion of effector cells that are associated with the suppression of autoimmunity.

By comparing CD4s in both autoimmune-prone and -resistant strains of mice, Blossom hopes to better understand the contribution of genetic susceptibility factors in autoimmune and inflammatory disorders.

Blossom, an expert in the immunotoxicity of TCE, is the principal investigator on an NIH career development award and is working to define the role of the TCE on the CD4+ T cell in how it may promote oxidative stress and epigenetic alterations. She has also served as the principal investigator on studies funded by NIH and the Arkansas Biosciences Institute. Blossom is a scientific technical advisor for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry-Camp LeJeune Community Assistance Panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Blossom is also working with investigators from Epidemiology in the UAMS College of Public Health and from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the UAMS College of Medicine assessing how maternal inflammation may alter infant outcome in diabetic pregnancy.

In 2019, Arkansas Children's Research Institute scientists received $7.3 million in funding from NIH, and total federal support for their projects reached $16.7 million.

About Arkansas Children’s

Arkansas Children's, Inc. is the only healthcare system in the state solely dedicated to caring for Arkansas' 710,000 children and transforming the health of children throughout the region. The private, non-profit organization includes two pediatric hospitals, a pediatric research institute and USDA nutrition center, a philanthropic foundation, a nursery alliance, statewide clinics, and many education and outreach programs. Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) is a 336-bed, Magnet-recognized facility in Little Rock operating the state’s only Level I pediatric trauma center; the state's only burn center; the state's only Level IV neonatal intensive care unit; the state's only pediatric intensive care unit; the state’s only pediatric surgery program with Level 1 verification from the American College of Surgeons (ACS); the state’s only magnetoencephalography (MEG) system for neurosurgical planning and cutting-edge research; and the state's only nationally recognized pediatric transport program. Additionally, ACH is nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report in five pediatric subspecialties (2019-2020): Cardiology & Heart Surgery, Nephrology, Neurology & Neurosurgery, Orthopedics and Pulmonology. ACH is one of only five hospitals in the nation that have achieved Magnet Status, ACS Level 1 verification and a Beacon award from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Arkansas Children’s Northwest (ACNW), the first and only pediatric hospital in the Northwest Arkansas region, opened in Springdale in early 2018. ACNW operates a 24-bed inpatient unit; a surgical unit with five operating rooms; outpatient clinics offering over 20 subspecialties; diagnostic services; imaging capabilities; occupational therapy services; and Northwest Arkansas' only pediatric emergency department, equipped with 30 exam rooms. Generous philanthropic and volunteer engagement has sustained Arkansas Children's since it began as an orphanage in 1912, and today ensures the system can fundamentally transform the health of children in Arkansas and beyond. To learn more, visit

About Arkansas Children’s Research Institute

ACRI is a free-standing state-of-the-art pediatric research center which provides a research environment on the ACH campus to foster research and scholarship of faculty members of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who are investigating questions relative to development, disease and treatment as it relates to the health of infants, children and adolescents. Physician and biomedical scientist investigators at ACRI and the Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center (ACNC) conduct clinical, basic science, and health services research for the purpose of treating illnesses and preventing disease and thereby, improving the health of the children of Arkansas and beyond.

About UAMS

UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS’ clinical enterprise including its hospital, regional clinics and clinics it operates or staffs in cooperation with other providers. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. U.S. News & World Report named UAMS Medical Center the state’s Best Hospital; ranked its ear, nose and throat program among the top 50 nationwide; and named six areas as high performing — cancer, colon cancer surgery, heart failure, hip replacement, knee replacement and lung cancer surgery. UAMS has 2,727 students, 870 medical residents and five dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.