OSWEGO — A SUNY Oswego team’s groundbreaking research on the effects of low levels of lead in children’s blood broke through the stiff competition for federal stimulus funds and brought a job to campus in January.
Kristen Roosa, a May graduate of the college in biology, now works full time in Snygg Hall as a member of the research team led by Dr. Brooks Gump in Oswego’s psychology department, with Dr. James MacKenzie of biological sciences and Dr. Kestas Bendinskas of chemistry. They are working to confirm their initial findings that lead adversely affects the young cardiovascular system’s response to psychological stress and to investigate the complex biochemical interplay that is causing that effect.
Gump received a $96,895 supplemental grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for his team’s project when additional federal research funds became available last year through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — also known as the stimulus package. In addition to Roosa’s position, which will end in August, the grant funds the analysis of 100 children’s blood samples at the National Center for Glycomics and Glycoproteomics at Indiana University.
Last year, preliminary results of the Oswego project appeared in news stories around the world when the United Press International and Reuters wire services reported on a paper that MacKenzie presented at the annual meeting of the American Physiological Society. Roosa was among his co-authors, because she began working with him on the project while she was still an undergraduate.
Roosa, of Weedsport, said she plans to enroll in a doctoral program in the fall and pursue a career in the kind of work she has been doing with MacKenzie, Gump and Bendinskas.
Her principal responsibility at Oswego over the next several months is analyzing samples of blood for apolipoprotein E, a protein that correlates with cardiovascular disease risk. Earlier blood studies showed that this protein is related to lead concentrations.
Lead and human health
Lead is an environmental pollutant that has found its way into organisms, including humans, in significant quantities since the Industrial Revolution. It has long been known to inhibit children’s mental development, if present at high enough levels, and has known associations with a variety of physiological and neurological problems, including high blood pressure, the researchers said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has set 10 micrograms per deciliter as the threshold for harmful effects of lead in children.
“We are finding effects at 1 microgram per deciliter,” Bendinskas said. Gump said that the adverse effects show up in their study as potentially harmful cardiovascular responses to psychological stress, which the children experience while performing challenging computer tasks.
The Oswego researchers’ work is the first to show any effect in humans at such low levels, which are considered normal for people in American and European cities today. The work therefore has “potentially broad public health ramifications,” Gump noted.
Oswego Children’s Study
Gump’s project ties into the Oswego Children’s Study, a two-decade-long study at SUNY Oswego that has collected wide-ranging data on more than 200 children from the greater Oswego area from before they were born to adolescence.
It began with the purpose of studying the subtle neurobehavioral effects of prenatal exposure to environmental pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury and lead. The study continues monitoring these children and is extraordinary for its length and comprehensiveness, examining many variables beyond exposure to environmental toxicants, including geographic, sociological, economic and other factors.