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Texas A&M, Baylor, University of Houston Land $4.4M for Environmental Science Center

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Scientists from the Texas A&M University, Baylor College of Medicine, and the University of Houston will use a $4.4 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to create a research center focused on the study of environmental health risks, Texas A&M said yesterday.

Researchers spread across the three institutions will use the National Center of Excellence in Environmental Health Science grant to create a Center for Translational Environmental Health Research (CTEHR).

This center will pursue studies integrating a wide range of scientific disciplines, such as molecular, cell, and structural biology, genetics, biochemistry, toxicology, biostatistics, and others. Scientists with these wide-ranging specialties will team to examine environmental risks that can impact health, such as bacteria, chemicals, radiation, air quality, and lifestyle choices, and will seek to link these factors to disease.

The CTEHR is the newest of 21 total translational environmental health centers NIEHS supports across the country, Texas A&M said.

The scientists from the three universities, as well as other affiliated partners including Texas A&M AgriLife and Texas Medical Center, plan to share resources and attempt to accelerate development of translational science focused on risks for environmental diseases.

For example, these investigators will investigate how exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals can influence epigenetics in fetuses, increasing risk of disease in adulthood; develop biomarkers for gut function after exposure to environmental stresses, such as radiation or alfatoxin; and study the link between maternal exposure to pollutants and risk of birth defects and cancer, among other projects.

The center will be directed by Cheryl Lyn Walker of the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology and College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

"Understanding and mitigating environmental causes of diseases, such as asthma, heart disease, obesity, and cancer, offers the greatest opportunity to decrease disease burden," Walker said in a statement.

"Unlike genetic causes of disease, environmental exposures are modifiable, and if detected early, present opportunities for intervention to prevent disease occurrence, and transmission to the next generation," added Walker, whose research has centers on the human epigenome's roles in disease.