2 Chicago Universities Announce New Environmental Health Center

Researchers from two Chicago universities will work together to study the health effects of pollution in an attempt to understand and reduce environmental health-related disparities among Chicago residents.

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The University of Chicago and University of Illinois at Chicago announced Tuesday the creation of the ChicAgo Center for Health and Environment, or CACHET, which will receive $4 million over four years from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at the National Institutes of Health.

“Our two institutions, with overlapping strengths, will work closely together to mitigate disparities in environmental health,” said center co-director Dr. Habibul Ahsan, a UChicago Medicine professor, in a statement. “We will focus on the biological, social and economic connections between urban environmental exposures and human disease, and apply the knowledge we gain to the reduction of health inequities.”

While the life expectancy gap between ethnic and racial groups has narrowed in the U.S., the gap between the life expectancy of blacks and whites in Chicago remains one of the largest in the nation, according to a University of Chicago press release.

CACHET will focus its efforts first on Chicago’s South and West Sides, where environmental pollutants are most prevalent. Researchers will analyze the health effects of air pollution, water quality, exposure to industrial chemicals and other contaminants on adults and children. They’ll also work to identify windows of susceptibility, study combined exposures and develop new ways to measure each individual’s environmental exposures over time.

“The Chicago region faces disproportionate rates of diabetes, respiratory illnesses, heart disease and cancer as well as HIV/AIDS and homicide,” said center co-director Gail S. Prins, professor of urology and environmental and occupational health sciences at UIC, in a statement.

“Although studies have identified multiple contributors to these inequities, the determinants of racial and ethnic health disparities remain poorly understood, which makes successful intervention much more challenging,” she added.

Of the more than 20 NIEHS-designated centers across the country, CACHET is the only center to be operated jointly and equally by two institutions, according to a press release.

“As a NIEHS-designated center, we are better equipped to pursue shared research questions and identify emerging issues that advance understanding about how pollutants and other environmental factors affect human biology and may lead to disease,” Prins said.

Follow Kristen Thometz on Twitter: @kristenthometz

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