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January 24, 2007

BioServe, Harvard, and University of Michigan to Determine Link Between Genetics and Lead Exposure

  • BioServe, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the University of Michigan School of Public Health will work together to understand how genetics and environmental lead pollution interact to affect children’s intellectual and behavioral functioning.

    Under terms of the agreement, BioServe will perform DNA purification and genotyping on tissue samples collected from 750 school children in Chennai, India who have been exposed to lead pollutants. The goal is to help the investigators determine whether genetic factors predispose children to or protect them from certain toxic effects.

    Although it is well-known that high lead levels in the body can negatively affect intelligence, this is the first study in India to measure that effect. The study will also measure how lead exposure affects both visual-spatial-motor skills and aggressive behavior as well as how individual genetic makeup may modify the neurobehavioral impact of lead exposure.

    “India and other countries are undergoing rapid urbanization, population shifts to cities, industrialization, and a steep increase in the use of fossil fuels for energy and transportation. But population exposures to newer pollution hazards remain understudied,” explains Howard Hu M.D., the principle investigator, chair and professor in the department of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and adjunct professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Understanding the interrelationship of environmental hazards, genetics, and health will provide the information that is needed to formulate regulatory policies, prioritize public health controls, and educate the medical community and the public on how best to mitigate particular environmental exposures.

    “Progress on these fronts,” adds Dr. Hu, “would be slow or impossible without public/private partnerships like the one involving Harvard, the University of Michigan, and Bioserve.”