Current Investigations in Environmental Medicine

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health is currently investigating the following:

  • Birth and developmental defects, sterility, breast and testicular cancers
    NIEHS research seeks to discover how chemicals in the environment, including pesticides that mimic the hormone estrogen, might cause or stimulate these diseases.

  • Women's health
    NIEHS scientists are examining the environmental components of osteoporosis, as well as the post-menopausal release of lead from bone, which can result in osteoporosis.

  • Alzheimer's and other neurologic disorders
    Some scientists believe toxins in the environment may play a role in Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), and other disorders of the immune and endocrine systems. NIEHS research seeks to determine what role solvents, pesticides, and metals may play. Although studies have shown an association between certain modifiable lifestyle factors and a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease, the National Institutes of Health says that researchers still aren’t sure whether these factors can actually prevent the disease.

  • Lead poisoning
    Lead in old paint continues to be a leading environmental hazard to infants and children, and may have effects on fertility and pregnancy. NIEHS is also evaluating various treatments for lead poisoning.

  • Hazards to the poor
    NIEHS grants support health research projects among minority and low-income communities as the poor are more likely to be exposed to lead poisoning at home, hazardous chemicals at work, live near hazardous waste sites, and live where there is air pollution or polluted water.

  • Agricultural pollution
    Agricultural chemicals have increased food production to meet the needs of rising populations here and abroad, but can pose serious health risks at high exposures. NIEHS puts special emphasis on agricultural exposures.

  • Signal error
    Certain environmental chemicals mimic the body's hormonal growth factors by activating receptor proteins at the cell's surface that stimulate cell growth and division. Investigation is underway to determine whether exposure to such chemicals contributes to the development of cancer or reproductive disorders.

  • Animal alternatives
    NIEHS is looking for ways to reduce the number of animals used in research and to find alternatives for animals, by using microbe and tissue cultures whenever possible.

  • Applying the research
    NIEHS provides public and professional education and information on environmental health matters through a number of channels. In addition, they provide training programs for safety and health in hazardous waste handling and cleanup.

  • Markers
    Scientists are working to use indicators, called bio-markers, to better measure the body's exposure to and uptake of toxins. Scientists hope that these measurements can be made by sensitive, non-invasive tests to help provide early warnings of exposures, predict the likely development of diseases and help physicians prevent or limit these diseases.

  • Health disparities research
    NIEHS is working with many key players, including national, state, and local policymakers to understand the interrelationships of poverty, environmental pollution, and health. Among the NIEHS efforts are grant programs to enable local communities to deal with environmental health issues affecting them.

Medical Reviewer: [Foster, Sara RN MPH, Jenkins, Lee] Last Annual Review Date: 2009-07-17T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: Copyright © 2007 Staywell Content Services, Inc. except where otherwise noted.