The vision of the NIEHS is to use environmental health sciences to understand human disease and improve human health. Below are some research highlights from NIEHS scientists since its founding in 1966.
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Air pollution increases risk of lung cancer, heart disease
NIEHS-funded researchers demonstrated that years of exposure to high concentrations of tiny particles of soot and dust from cars, power plants, and factories can increase a person's risk of dying from lung cancer and heart disease to a level that is comparable to the risk associated with prolonged exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.
Animal models confirm drug DES' role in abnormal development of offspring
Scientists developed an animal model that predicts and confirms that exposure to Diethylstilbestrol (DES), a drug that was prescribed during pregnancy for women from 1938 to 1971 to prevent miscarriages and premature deliveries, can result in various reproductive abnormalities in both male and female offspring. NIEHS children's health researchers have continued to expand research linking early environmental exposures to adult diseases.
Artificial light stimulates breast cancer tumors
NIEHS-funded research showed that nighttime exposure to artificial light can stimulate the growth of breast tumors in mice by suppressing the levels of a key hormone called melatonin. Blood extracted from sleeping volunteers could actually prevent tumor growth in an animal model. Extended periods of nighttime darkness were shown to greatly slow the growth of these tumors. Blood from women whose sleep was interrupted lost much of its cancer-prevention ability. These results might explain why female night shift workers have a higher rate of breast cancer, and may offer an explanation for the rise in breast cancer incidence in industrialized countries.
Asbestos exposure linked to lung tumors, mesotheliomas
Researchers linked asbestos exposure to an increased incidence of lung tumors and mesotheliomas, and found that asbestos-exposed workers who smoke cigarettes have a risk of lung cancer more than ten times as great as asbestos-exposed individuals who do not smoke.
Baby Teeth, used as a Biomarker, Link Autism with Toxic Lead
June 1, 2017 - Baby teeth from children with autism contained more toxic lead and less of the essential nutrients zinc and manganese, compared to teeth from children without autism. Using naturally shed baby teeth, layers of dentine, the hard substance beneath tooth enamel, was analyzed in ways that corresponded to different developmental periods. This innovative NIEHS-funded study suggests that differences in early-life exposure to metals, or more importantly how a child’s body processes them, may affect the risk of autism.