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NIH-funded research network to explore oil spill health effects

An NIH-funded network of researchers will evaluate potential harmful effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on reproduction and birth outcomes, the cardiorespiratory system, and behavior and mental health. The network of community and university partnerships, under the leadership of NIH's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), will conduct research to evaluate the level of potentially harmful contaminants in air, water, and seafood, and assess their relationship to health outcomes.

The five-year, $25.2 million program will support population-based and laboratory research at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans; Tulane University, New Orleans; the University of Florida, Gainesville; and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. In contrast to NIEHS' Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study, known as the GuLF Study, which is focused on the oil spill cleanup workers and volunteers, this new research will concentrate on the range of acute and long-term health effects to the general public.

As an integrated network, these four institutions will collaborate on approaches and share results to better understand the interplay and effects of multiple stressors on human health. To ensure research activities are responsive to the needs of local communities in the Gulf Coast region, the universities will partner with more than a dozen community organizations to incorporate local concerns and more effectively communicate research findings.

"From individuals, to families, to communities, this initiative shows a commitment to better understand the long-term health effects of oil spills," said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program. "Our number one goal is to provide strong science that will help people now and during future disasters."

"Throughout the Gulf region, scientists and community groups will work hand in hand to address the needs of those most impacted," said Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training, which will closely monitor the progress of the research components. "A focus will be on the physical and psychological health of vulnerable populations, especially pregnant women, children, fishermen, immigrants, and minorities."

In addition to sharing data and research results, each of the four institutions will implement a community resilience project, which seeks to better understand how local populations respond to and recover from disasters. Through their partnerships with community-based organizations, researchers will assess how culture, social networks, and other determinants may enhance pre-event preparedness and post-event recovery.

"This region has seen its share of disasters, and many communities have shown remarkable resilience," said Claudia Thompson, Ph.D., chief of the Susceptibility and Population Health Branch at NIEHS. "One goal of the research projects is to understand what keeps these communities together, so that other communities can benefit."

The four recipients of the NIH funding are:

Edward Trapido, Sc.D.
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center New Orleans
"Women and Their Children's Gulf Health Consortium"

Maureen Lichtveld, M.D.
Tulane University
"Trans-disciplinary Research Consortium for Gulf Resilience on Women's Health"

J. Glenn Morris Jr., M.D.
University of Florida
"Health Impact of Deepwater Horizon Spill in Eastern Gulf Coast Communities

Cornelis Elferink, Ph.D.
The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
"Gulf Coast Health Alliance: Health Risks Related to the Macondo Spill"


Contact: Ed Kang
NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

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