Current Investigations in Environmental Medicine

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 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.

  • The health of our oceans. The state of our ocean's resources is linked to health outcomes of the Earth's population.

  • Toxicogenomics. This is a scientific field that studies how human genes are involved in responses to environmental stressors and toxins.

  • Women's health. NIEHS scientists are examining the environmental components of osteoporosis, as well as the postmenopausal 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, NIH 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 and 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 biomarkers, to better measure the body's exposure to and uptake of toxins. Scientists hope that these measurements can be made by sensitive, noninvasive tests to help provide early warnings of exposures, predict the likely development of diseases and help doctors 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.