National Institutes of Health Honors Environmental Health Scientist

April 10, 2020

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences named Frederica Perera, PhD, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, recipient of the 19th Annual Spirit Lecture Award, recognizing her contributions to science and community engagement.

“She is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of molecular epidemiology as it relates to better understanding how problems in the environment can lead to adverse health effects and disease,” said NIEHS Acting Director Rick Woychik, PhD.

In her talk titled, “Translational Research to Prevent Environmental Threats to Children: From Chemicals to Climate Change,” Perera, founder of the Columbia ​Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Columbia Mailman School, spoke about her career in environmental health sciences, including her discovery that the human fetus is vulnerable to environmental harms. “There are 82 billion neurons in the average brain, but almost all were formed before we were born,” Perera said. “You can imagine how highly choreographed and complex this development is over a short time window, and how readily any external exposure—whether a physical toxicant or psychosocial stressor—could disrupt these processes.”

Perera is internationally recognized for pioneering the field of molecular epidemiology, utilizing biomarkers to understand links between environmental exposures and disease. Currently, she and her colleagues are applying advanced molecular and imaging techniques in community-based longitudinal studies of pregnant women and their children, with the goal of identifying preventable environmental risk factors for developmental disorders, asthma, obesity, and cancer in childhood. Her ongoing research also addresses the multiple impacts on children’s health and development of fossil fuel combustionboth from the toxic pollutants emitted and climate change-related to CO2 emissions. She is the author of over 350 publications, including 300 peer-reviewed articles, and has received numerous honors.