Collaborating in Discovery
Teams study impact of environment on child health
Medical College pediatrician Venkatesh Sampath, MBBS, (right) a Children’s Research Institute investigator, explains his research on environmental causes of neonatal lung disease to the leaders of the Children’s Environmental Health Services Core Center (L-R), David Petering, PhD, of UWM, and Medical College faculty members Ronald Hines, PhD, and Gail McCarver, MD.
A child’s environment has a significant influence on his or her health. A partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), Children’s Research Institute of Children’s Hospital and Health System, and the Medical College of Wisconsin is dedicated to understanding how known or suspected environmental factors relate to reproductive and childhood diseases and finding ways to prevent them.
Built on the foundation of a decades-long collaboration between UWM and the College, the Children’s Environmental Health Sciences Core Center was
created in 2009 through a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The Center is directed by principal investigator David Petering, PhD, of UWM. From the Medical College, Ronald Hines, PhD, is deputy director, and Gail McCarver, MD, is clinical director. Together, they oversee a diverse research support program for scientists that is distributed across partner institutions.
The Center links UWM’s expertise in basic developmental toxicology with Medical College and Children’s Hospital expertise in clinical pediatric disease and environmental health. A key focus of UWM research is a long-standing program that uses zebrafish and other aquatic organisms to study issues such as in utero nicotine exposure and central nervous system development.
The Medical College and Children’s Research Institute contribute a powerful emphasis on translational research, including a focus on chemical exposures to developmental outcomes. They also offer molecular biology lab and imaging resources. Instrumental in the Center’s success is its ability to form collaborative teams united around environmental health problems.
For example, the Center brought together UWM WATER Institute scientist Sandra McLellan, PhD, and Medical College pediatrician Marc Gorelick, MD. Dr. McLellan investigates the identity and biology of human pathogens in water sources while Dr. Gorelick has an interest in better understanding periodic spikes in severe gastroenteritis seen in Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin’s emergency department.
In an initial project supported by the Center, the two demonstrated an increase in severe gastroenteritis cases in children after heavy rainfall and hypothesized that intrusion of sewage into the drinking water systems could be responsible for the illnesses. The team has since received a National Institutes of Health grant to identify alternative indicators of fecal pollution that will provide information about the source of contamination. This collaboration between a basic scientist and physician scientist to address an important health problem was fostered through the Children’s Environmental Health Sciences Core Center. As individual investigators in different institutions, it would have been difficult or impossible to conduct their multi-disciplinary studies.
Dr. Petering is Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UWM; Dr. Hines and Dr. McCarver are both Professors of Pediatrics and Pharmacology/Toxicology at the Medical College; Dr. McLellan is Associate Professor and Senior Scientist at the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences; Dr. Gorelick is Professor of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at the Medical College, and CEO and Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs-Children’s Specialty Group.