Scientists Develop Blood Test to Predict Environmental Harms
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Scientists at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health developed a method using a DNA biomarker to easily screen pregnant women for harmful prenatal environmental contaminants like air pollution linked to childhood illness and developmental disorders.

The researchers said, “While environmental factors -- including air pollutants -- have previously been associated with DNA markers, no studies to date have used DNA markers to flag environmental exposures in children.”

“A barrier in the children’s environmental health field has been the lack of early-warning systems to identify risks of childhood illness and developmental disorders,” they added. “This approach has the potential to prevent childhood developmental disorders and chronic illness through the early identification of children at risk.”

They used machine learning analysis of umbilical cord blood to identify locations on DNA altered by air pollution. Study participants had known levels of exposure to air pollution measured through personal and ambient air monitoring during pregnancy, with specific measures of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).

They tested these biomarkers via applying a three-part pipeline and found that they could be used to predict prenatal exposure to NO2 and PM2.5 (which were monitored throughout pregnancy), although only with modest accuracy. PAH, which was only monitored for a short period during the third trimester, was less well predicted.

The researchers now plan to apply their biomarker discovery process using a larger pool of data collected through the ECHO consortium, which potentially could lead to higher levels of predictability. It might also be possible to link these biomarkers with both exposures and adverse health outcomes.
"While further validation is needed, this approach may help identify new-born’s at heightened risk for health problems. With this information, clinicians could increase monitoring for high-risk children to see if problems develop and prescribe interventions, as needed," says the researchers.

Source:
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15592294.2021.1872926
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