NEWS | September 26, 2016

UC Davis joins large-scale effort to identify environmental influences on child health


UC Davis will receive $3.9 million from the National Institutes of Health to join the first phase of a seven-year initiative called Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes, or ECHO.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto Irva Hertz-Picciotto

The initiative capitalizes on existing studies of various pediatric populations to develop a clearer picture of how physical, chemical, biological, social, behavioral, natural and built environments affect newborns, along with the lung, brain and metabolic health of children. More than 30 research centers from throughout the U.S. are united in the new national effort.

ECHO at UC Davis will be led by Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of public health sciences and MIND Institute researcher, who will join directors of ECHO centers across the country in developing standard protocols for use across data sets that together encompass as many as 50,000 children.

The UC Davis team will also follow-up with children who were enrolled when they were preschool aged in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study. Launched in 2003, CHARGE has already identified chemicals and maternal health conditions that can increase susceptibilities for autism and developmental delay.

Called “ReCHARGE,” study participants, who are now pre-teens or teens, will be re-evaluated for changes in their initial diagnoses, intellectual development and symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression. UC Davis researchers will focus on how chemical exposures, along with nutrition, neighborhood and family characteristics, may have influenced their health outcomes.

Before CHARGE, little was known about the risks of developing autism or developmental delay. Findings from the study have shown that, for instance, children of women who lived near freeways or agricultural pesticide applications during pregnancy or who did not take prenatal vitamins early in their first trimesters are more likely to develop autism.

“CHARGE has been an enormously rich source of information on the links between the environment and atypical neurodevelopment,” Hertz-Picciotto said. “We look forward to finding out what aspects of early life exposures have affected these children as they have grown, collaborating with experts around the country to design common data collection protocols, and gaining broader insights on how we can protect children’s health.”

Subjects and data from three other pediatric studies conducted at UC Davis — Markers of Autism Risk in Babies – Learning Early Signs (MARBLES), Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation (EARLI) and the Infant-Sibling Study — will also be included in ECHO as part of a separate multisite study led by Drexel University.

“Every baby should have the best opportunity to remain healthy and thrive throughout childhood,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins. “ECHO will help us better understand the factors that contribute to optimal health in children.”

Hertz-Picciotto’s co-principal investigators are Deborah Bennett, professor of public health sciences, and Julie Schweitzer, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and MIND Institute researcher.

Additional UC Davis investigators are Paul Ashwood, professor of medical microbiology and immunology and MIND Institute researcher; Cristina Davis, professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering; Nicholas Kenyon, professor of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine; Robin Hansen, professor of pediatrics and MIND Institute researcher; Bill Lasley, professor emeritus, Center for Health and the Environment; Kyoungmi  Kim, associate professor of public health sciences; Janine LaSalle, professor of medical microbiology and immunology; Marjorie Solomon, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and MIND Institute researcher; Rebecca Schmidt, assistant professor of public health sciences and MIND Institute researcher; Daniel Tancredi, associate professor of pediatrics; and Judy Van de Water, professor of rheumatology, allergy and clinical immunology and MIND Institute researcher.

More information about ECHO is at

More information about UC Davis Health System, including its Department of Public Health Sciences, is at