NIH-funded study examines lead's effects on children

running samplesThe National Institutes of Health has awarded a grant of more than $200,000 to researchers at SUNY Oswego to continue their investigation into the effects of low levels of lead on cardiovascular functioning in children and to look into exactly how lead produces those effects.

Lead is an environmental pollutant that can find its way into the human body. It has long been known to have a negative impact on children’s cognitive development if present at high enough levels, 10 micrograms per deciliter or more.

Work by Dr. Brooks Gump of Oswego’s psychology department suggests that lead also may harm children’s cardiovascular systems and that this adverse effect may occur when lead is present at extremely low levels, below 3.8 micrograms per deciliter.

Gump’s initial investigations indicated that children’s blood lead is associated with higher blood pressure due to vascular resistance in response to stressful or challenging situations. His studies have singled out lead as at least one possible culprit in the known association between poverty and poor cardiovascular health.

Gump is the principal investigator on the new $205,741 two-year project funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health. His co-principal-investigators are Dr. James MacKenzie of the college’s biological sciences department and Dr. Kestas Bendiskas of the chemistry department.

Dr. Robert Morgan of Oswego Family Physicians and Dr. Patrick Parsons of SUNY Albany are also investigators on the study. Also involved are Edward Hogan, manager of the laboratory at Oswego Hospital, Ed Hale, chemistry supervisor at Oswego Hospital, and Barbara Samson, a senior phlebotomist for the lab, who will draw the blood samples from 100 children from the greater Oswego area. About 25 of the children will come from the Hispanic community, Gump said.

He noted that the grant is specifically designed to increase undergraduates’ participation in research. Two SUNY Oswego students will join the project next summer, he said.

The new study will seek to confirm Gump’s earlier findings with smaller groups of subjects that lead affects cardiovascular functioning in children, and it will consider how the children’s socioeconomic status relates to these effects.

Further, it will seek to determine how lead produces its effects, in part by using the college’s Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Center to analyze mediators of the cardiovascular system in blood samples and the Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics Center to determine if lead has an effect on the hundreds of proteins in the blood.

Gump credited Morgan of Oswego Family Physicians and Samson and the chemistry staff at Oswego Hospital’s laboratory for their “invaluable help” both in the previous smaller studies and in the current project.

If children, 9 or 10 years old, are interested in participating in the study, their parents may contact project manager Amy Dumas at 312-2904. “We are particularly interested in gaining the participation of Hispanic children,” Gump said. Participants each receive $100.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Research team—Robert Birdsall, a chemistry graduate student, prepares blood plasma samples for the proteomics portion of a study of the effects of lead on children’s cardiovascular systems. Looking on, from left, are principal investigator Brooks Gump of the psychology department and two of his co-investigators, Kestas Bendinskas of the chemistry department and James MacKenzie of the biological sciences department. The work is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health.

(Posted: Jul 09, 2007)