Superfund Research Program
Investigating the Role of PAH Exposures Associated with Superfund Site Proximity in Preterm Birth Etiology Through Placental Transcriptomics and Metagenomics
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Project Summary (2020-2025)
The burden of perinatal morbidity and mortality related to preterm birth (PTB) is astounding. Studies show that environmental exposures contribute to an increased susceptibility to PTB. Identification of the causative etiology of PTB is essential to improving global maternal and child health. The researchers' preliminary data reveal that exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) is associated with PTB. They have reported that proximity to Superfund sites in Harris County, Texas is associated with very low birth weight, and their studies reveal higher levels of PAHs in placentas from PTBs compared to term births, specifically in women residing near Superfund sites. In this project, the researchers are delving into the molecular underpinnings behind PTB and the specific environmental exposures of PAHs through use of their established transcriptomic and epigenomic pipelines. They are leveraging their readily available serum and placental samples from a population-based and PTB-enriched cohort. Furthermore, they are using geostatistical modeling to identify clusters of PTB throughout Harris County. Their central hypothesis is that PAH exposures are associated with an increased rate of PTB, that transcriptomics and epigenomics yield readily translatable mechanistic information on this association, and geostatistical modeling reveals increased clusters of PTB in proximity to Superfund sites in Harris County.