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Baylor College of Medicine News

Environmental health focus of new collaborative center

With a mission to improve the understanding of environmental influences on human health by integrating basic, biomedical and engineering research and promoting translation of these advances from the bench to the bedside to the community, the new Center for Translational Environmental Health Research has been established and named by the National Institutes of Health as the newest National Center of Excellence in Environmental Health Science. The center, a collaboration between Baylor College of Medicine, Texas A&M University and the University of Houston, is one of only 21 Centers of Excellence in the country and will focus on better understanding the effects of the environment on human health.

“This is a great opportunity for major Texas institutions to address the environmental health issues of Texas,” said Dr. Melissa Bondy, professor in the NCI-designated Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine and associate director of the new Center. “As one of the top 25 medical schools in the country and based in Houston with access to populations with health disparities, Baylor College of Medicine is uniquely positioned to translate environmental health research advances to the clinic and into the community.”

Bondy will serve as associate director of the Center and will lead the Integrated Health Sciences Facility Core.

The research base of the Center has five thematic focus areas for impacting human environmental health: early life exposures, the microbiome, chronic disease, metabolism and emerging technologies.

Baylor’s focus will entail basic science research with the theme of understanding the microbiome, the collection of microbes (bacteria, viruses and single-cell eukaryotes) that inhabit the human body and an emerging area of importance in understanding human health. Researchers will work to understand the organisms that impact human health and disease. Baylor researchers will also play a major role in understanding how early life exposures impact the susceptibility to adult disease.

“Understanding and mitigating environmental causes of diseases, such as asthma, heart disease, obesity and cancer, offers the greatest opportunity to decrease disease burden,” said Dr. Cheryl Lyn Walker, director of the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biomedical Sciences and Technology and director of the new Center. “Unlike genetic causes of disease, environmental exposures are modifiable, and if detected early, present opportunities for intervention to prevent disease occurrence, and transmission to the next generation.

The ultimate goal will be detecting, preventing and/or managing diseases induced or exacerbated by environmental exposures and infectious agents.

Through a Pilot Project Program, the Center will provide funding for cutting edge environmental health research that promotes basic sciences and its translation applications. It will support early-stage projects with the potential to advance environmental health science research and enhance the human health impact of research being conducted.