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Using information from the Research Bank to improve children’s health

Kaiser Permanente researchers are using information from our Research Bank for a National Institutes of Health study on how contact with chemicals during pregnancy may affect the risk of obesity and neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, in children.

“This research is exploring how in-womb exposure to chemicals in the environment affects normal growth and development by changing the metabolism of glucose and thyroid hormones, both of which regulate infant growth and neurodevelopment,” said Assiamira Ferrara, MD, PhD, the study’s lead researcher at Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California Division of Research.

The study is part of the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes research program, known as ECHO. It uses research studies around the nation to find out how exposure to a range of environmental factors in early development — from conception through early childhood — influences the health of children and adolescents.

“ECHO would not have been possible without years of previous groundwork at the Division of Research and the resources of the Kaiser Permanente Research Bank, as well as the support of clinicians throughout Kaiser Permanente in Northern California,” said Tracy A. Lieu, MD, MPH, director of the Division of Research.

Kaiser Permanente researchers are focusing on in utero exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which are found in many common household and personal products, plastics, and furntiture

“Several of these types of chemicals are persistent in the environment and can be measured in human tissue such as blood and urine,” said Lisa A. Croen, PhD, co-lead researcher and director of Kaiser Permanente’s Autism Research Program and the Research Bank’s Pregnancy Cohort.

Researchers have been asking women who took part in our Research Bank’s Pregnancy Cohort to join the study, along with their young children.

Dr. Ferrara noted that this research could lead to policy changes to protect children from environmental exposures in the future: “Since the use of environmental chemicals is potentially modifiable, results from the study may help to inform national environmental and public health agencies regarding policies to further regulate the production of these chemicals and inform the public regarding the restriction of their use” she said.

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