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Baylor College of Medicine

Superfund Research Program

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons: Ultrasensitive Detection, Early-Life Exposures - Clinical Outcomes (Preterm Births, Chronic Lung Disease, and Neurocognitive Deficits), Prevention and Remediation

Center Director: Bhagavatula Moorthy
Grant Number: P42ES027725
Funding Period: 2020-2025
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Summary (2020-2025)

The preterm birth (PTB) rate in Harris County, Texas is an alarming 13.6 percent (whereas the national average is 9.6 percent); in areas surrounding Superfund sites, the rate is even higher (> 20 percent). There are 15 Superfund sites in Harris County, posing a significant health risk to people living in the vicinity. PTB often leads to many complications, including chronic lung disease, also termed bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), and some of these patients develop neurocognitive deficits later in life. One of the possible risk factors for PTBs is exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), present in contaminated soil, sediments, and water at various Superfund sites across the U.S., including the greater Houston area. The overarching hypothesis of the Baylor College of Medicine - Rice University SRP is that maternal exposure to PAHs, which are present in Superfund sites, increases the risk of PTBs and incrementally augments major morbidities, such as BPD and neurocognitive deficits. The Specific Aims of the overall Center are:

  1. To develop ultrasensitive detection and identification strategies (e.g., surface-enhanced Raman Spectra (SERA) and surface-enhanced Infrared Absorption spectroscopy (SEIRA) for primary and secondary PAH-based compounds in air, water, and soil based on optically active engineered nanomaterials. This method is highly innovative and because it can detect PAHs at 1 ppb levels, it is very helpful for risk assessment.
  2. To determine molecular mechanisms by which maternal exposure to PAH mixtures increases the risks for PTBs, which, in turn, leads to BPD and neurocognitive deficits.
  3. To develop novel remediation technologies to treat sediments from Superfund sites in a manner that completely removes the health risks while adding value to the impacted media. This research should help in risk assessment.
  4. To develop novel strategies to prevent and reduce the health burden associated with PAHs present in Superfund sites (e.g., Patrick Bayou, San Jacinto River Waste Pits) through the Community Engagement Core.
  5. To develop partnerships with primary stakeholders (i.e., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry), NIEHS, investigators within the Center and other Centers and to explore commercialization possibilities through the Administrative and Research Translational Core.
  6. To train students and postdoctoral fellows in a cross-disciplinary manner, so next-generation scientists, engineers, and physicians can make fundamental contributions to environmental health.
  7. To support the management and integration of assets across all the projects and cores of the Center. The biomedical and environmental science projects are well-integrated, and they are supported by the Administrative Core, the Research Support Core, and the Data Management and Analysis Core.

The overall goal is to reduce the health burden associated with PAHs in Superfund sites.

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