Research in New York City

We conduct state-of-the-art research to document the impact of environmental exposures on the health and neurodevelopment of children, and to translate that knowledge to prevention.

The Center’s flagship study is in low-income neighborhoods in northern Manhattan and the South Bronx. Rates of asthma in these areas are among the highest in the country, and incidence rates of low birth weight and other developmental problems are also elevated. We enrolled into the study mothers who were all healthy non-smokers and who had been living in their neighborhood for at least one year.

We have also conducted studies near the World Trade Center site after the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Below, a brief description of our New York City research studies.

Mothers & Children Study in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx

The Mothers & Children Study in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx follows a group of 725 African American and Latino pregnant women and their children. From birth through adolescence, we monitor the children’s health and development. Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx are low-income neighborhoods that bear a disproportionate share of New York City’s pollution sources. They include diesel bus depots, major commercial roadways, and derelict public housing, which is often infested with pests. Unfortunately, these are conditions are all too common in other urban environments. We examine the respiratory health, cognitive development, and level of cancer risk in children prenatally exposed to common urban air pollutants from fuel burning (e.g., vehicles, industry), environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), residential pesticides, cockroach and mouse allergensphthalates and bisphenol A (chemicals commonly found in plastics), mold, mercury, and lead.

Disease Investigation through Specialized Clinically-Oriented Ventures In Environmental Research (DISCOVER)

Disease Investigation through Specialized Clinically-Oriented Ventures In Environmental Research (DISCOVER) was a special initiative from 2007 to 2013, consisting of four linked studies designed to increase our understanding of when and how air pollutants increase the risk for childhood asthma through additional research in the Center’s Mothers & Newborns Study cohort:

  1. “Time Windows of Asthma Vulnerability” aimed to determine at what point in their development, young inner-city children are most vulnerable to air pollution exposure, and to also monitor the effects of recent policy changes on exposure to traffic-related air pollution.
  2. “New Air Sampling Technology” aimed to develop a small lightweight, personal air sampling system (the size of an iPod) for a group of children in our cohort to wear while at home, in school, and in transit. We collected data from asthmatic and non-asthmatic children wearing this system, with the goal of better understanding how exposure to diesel exhaust can exacerbate asthma symptoms in young children.
  3. The “Genes & Asthma” project investigated whether modifications on a genetic level are involved in the process of childhood asthma development.
  4. “Air Pollution & Asthma Medicine” examined the effects of traffic-related pollutants on specific cell receptors (β2-adrenergic receptors or β2AR). These receptors play an important role in airway dilation. Once the true effects of air pollutants on these receptors are known, effective asthma medications can be developed and asthma symptoms in young children can be successfully alleviated.

Sibling/Hermanos Study

The Sibling/Hermanos Study, launched in 2008 as a component of the New York City Mothers & Newborns Study, aims to quantify shared environmental, epigenetic and genetic characteristics, which cannot be evaluated in a study of unrelated children. It provides valuable new data to enable us to assess more precisely the role of environmental exposures in disease risk. This research will help us as we continue to explore factors that may mediate and modify the relationships between pre-conception, prenatal and postnatal environmental exposures and health outcomes and biomarkers of disease risk.

World Trade Center (WTC) Pregnancy Study

The World Trade Center (WTC) Pregnancy Study assesses the effects of air pollutants released by the destruction of the WTC towers on fetal growth, respiratory health, and cognitive development in 329 newborns whose mothers were pregnant and living near the WTC on 9/11/01 and shortly thereafter. We have shown that babies born to women living within two miles of the WTC in the weeks after 9/11 were on average born five ounces lighter and one-third of an inch shorter than babies born to women living further away. In addition, women who were in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy on 9/11, regardless of where they lived or worked, had slightly shorter pregnancies by an average of 3.6 days. The study followed the children’s health and development through the age of six. Click here to read more about the study and its findings.

Phthalate Studies

Two Phthalate Studies are currently conducted at the Center using the NYC Mothers and Newborns Study cohort. Phthalates are a family of chemicals added to numerous consumer products; they typically are used to make plastics more flexible but are also found in vinyl flooring, cosmetics, and food packaging. Because several of the phthalates are endocrine disruptors and limited epidemiologic evidence has linked them with respiratory health outcomes, the Center is studying whether exposure to specific phthalates, particularly in the prenatal period, is associated with the development of allergy and asthma. A separate analysis will examine associations between phthalate exposures and child thyroid function as well as an array of neuro-cognitive developmental outcomes.

MRI Studies

Two MRI Studies, also using subjects already enrolled in the NYC cohort, focus on prenatal and early childhood exposure to environmental toxicants and their potential to adversely affect neuropsychological and behavioral function. One study explores the effects of pre- and postnatal exposure to the organophosphorus (OP) pesticide chlorpyrifos (CPF); the other study focuses on pre- and postnatal exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) on neurobehavioral function. To identify the neural basis for toxicant effects on fetal growth and neurodevelopment, the studies use magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the biochemical and morphological changes in the brain and to associate changes with performance on a battery of neuropsychological assessments.

To learn more about our research and key findings from our NYC studies, visit our Featured NYC Research Findings page.