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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 02/07/02
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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$7 Million NIH Grant to Study Child Allergies and Air Pollution

Cincinnati--Grace LeMasters, PhD, professor of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati (UC) Medical Center is the principal investigator of a $7.2 million five-year grant from the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to study the health effects of exposure to diesel-engine exhaust in southwestern Ohio and northern Kentucky. According to LeMasters, the question to be answered is, "Does exposure to diesel particles cause an increase in allergies or asthma?" Cincinnati scientists from UC Medical Center and the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CHMC) will investigate to find whether the allergy and asthma increases are stimulated by exposure to the toxic air pollutants or other environmental triggers.

LeMasters said, "In the first stage of the study, we will be recruiting parents of 800 newborns (and at least one parent) who must have allergies. Half of the recruits must live close to interstate highway corridors. Each family will also receive an in-home evaluation for allergens." Qualified participants will receive financial compensation for their time and assistance.

According to UC, approximately 15,000 to 18,000 trucks travel through each interstate in the Greater Cincinnati area daily (every 24 hours). A 1998 investigation found that residents in the Ohio and Kentucky River valley were exposed to higher levels of ozone smog more often than residents of Boston and New York. In addition, an Ohio Environmental Council study released in 2000 reported that Cincinnati's hospital admission rates for respiratory illness were also higher than in larger cities such as Boston and New York. Humidity in the Ohio River valley often intensifies the pollution problems in late summer.

Participating children who reside within about a quarter of a mile (or 400 meters) of a major interstate live within the travel range of diesel-exhaust particles that may pose a major risk for air pollution-induced breathing problems and allergies. Each child recruited (and one parent) will be given a skin prick test for allergic reaction. Those who test positive on the allergy test will be followed from one to five years. The home environment will be tested to see if pet dander, tree pollen, mold, dust mites or other allergens are contributing to the childıs allergy or asthma. Children in this study must be less than six-months-old when the family is recruited into the study.

According to LeMasters, study investigators will also direct the placement of highly sensitive monitors that will be located in 18 different sites along the interstate corridors and rotated to measure the amount of pollution in the air at those specific sites. "This is the first time in the nation that such a comprehensive study of diesel exhaust pollution and childhood allergies has been undertaken," LeMasters said. The five-year study will continue until 2006.

Clinical co-investigators involved in this study include the following UC faculty members: David Bernstein, MD, professor of clinical medicine in the Division of Allergy/Immunology in the Department of Internal Medicine; James Lockey, MD, professor of environmental health; and Manuel Villareal, MD, clinical assistant professor, Division of Allergy/Immunology in the Department of Internal Medicine.

Co-investigators include the following UC Medical Center faculty: Sergey Grinshpun, PhD, associate professor of environmental health; Linda Levin, PhD, research assistant professor; Tiina Reponen, PhD, associate professor of environmental health; and Rakesh Shukla, PhD, professor of biostatistics, Department of Environmental Health. The genetic studies will be carried out at Cincinnati Children's under the direction of Gurjit K. Khurana Hershey, MD, PhD. Hershey will examine the interaction between genetics and the environment. She will study whether children are more likely to develop allergy if they have certain genes, and whether these genes will make them more susceptible to the effects of exposure to diesel engine exhaust.

The project coordinator for the study is Kimberly Wilson, MS. Call (513) 558-0229 for more information or to see if you qualify to participate in this study.

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