MSU, Corewell Health Partner to Investigate Effects of Lead Exposure on Pregnant Women, Newborns

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06/20/2023

Norbert Kaminski, director of the MSU Center for Research on Ingredient Safety. Photo by Kurt Stepnitz.

Researchers with Michigan State University and Corewell Health are partnering to study the health effects of lead poisoning in the Grand Rapids area where about one in 10 children has elevated lead levels in their blood, according to state data.

 Researchers will use a new test and umbilical cord-derived stem cells to evaluate the effects of lead exposure on the developing immune system during early life stages. In parallel, clinicians and researchers at Corewell Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will explore any impacts of lead exposure on maternal health outcomes. Lead is a toxic metal that can cause various health problems, including developmental delays, intellectual disabilities and behavioral issues in children.

“We know lead exposure can cause a variety of adverse health outcomes. However, there’s little research on the developing immune system. Our new test will allow us to explore lead’s impact on our most vulnerable populations,” said Norbert Kaminski, the director of the MSU Center for Research on Ingredient Safety and the project’s principal investigator.

Lead exposure during pregnancy has been associated with adverse obstetrical outcomes, but additional research is needed to fully determine the effects of maternal lead exposure on mother and fetus.

“We will monitor pregnancy complications in the study participants. Any correlation between complications and lead levels will be studied, helping us better understand the relationship between lead levels and adverse pregnancy outcomes,” said Marcos Cordoba, an obstetrician and gynecologist and co-principal investigator from Corewell Health.

Marcos Cordoba, an obstetrician and gynecologist and co-principal investigator from Corewell Health. Courtesy photo.

In addition to the study’s potential scientific impact, MSU and Corewell Health are collaborating to minimize lead poisoning by boosting community awareness of lead exposure risk and available supportive services in Kent County and surrounding areas. Participating clinics will offer pregnant mothers educational materials on lead risks during pregnancy and breastfeeding and ways to reduce those risks as well as connect families with services from the Kent County Health Department for lead mitigation and removal. The study will offer no-cost lead testing and equip local physicians with tools for lead-exposure-related health counseling.

“By providing no-cost lead testing and lead-exposure-related health counseling, as well as utilizing a new way to evaluate the impacts of lead exposure, this partnership strives to make a positive impact on community health and address health equity disparities simultaneously,” said Austin Goodyke, research scientist and co-principal investigator at Corewell Health.

The research is part of a larger effort to develop new tools and technologies to assess the effects of heavy metal and chemical exposure on the developing immune system.

“Our first focus with this test explores lead, but it has the potential to transform how we evaluate safety to chemical exposure, whether environmental or otherwise,” said Kaminski, a professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the MSU College of Human Medicine.

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