Despite being one of the most prosperous countries in the world, Canada has unsatisfied performance in measuring children’s health and safety, as well as child poverty rates. One critical aspect related to children’s wellness is their living conditions. It has been recognized that children’s living conditions have life-long implications for their risk of developing chronic diseases and mental health. For example, using the Early Development Instrument (EDI), a widely used measure of the state of child development, children from low-income neighbourhoods in Canada have higher rates of vulnerability (35%) than children from highincome neighbourhoods (20%).
The objective of our inter-disciplinary research project is to exam how social and environmental factors lead to child disease status. Based on these measurements, we will develop a statistical model to predict the potential disease risks for children given the data of living conditions and provide suggestions to improve the living conditions in order to reduce child’s disease risks. We will begin our project with biological assays using hair and saliva samples. These two types of biological samples are non-invasive, easy-to-collect matrices that have exceptional ability to store both endogenous metabolites and exposure chemicals. This first specific aim is to assay the metabolome, epigenome, and exposome for 100 children that have already been recruited in an ongoing UBC study.
Comprehensive statistical analysis and modeling will be performed to interpret the large-scale dataset to discover potential exposure molecules that are highly correlated with child development. The second specific aim is to find out the sources of these exposure molecules. For example, whether these molecules are produced by specific industrial activities or environmental perturbations. Once we recognize where these exposure molecules are from, the third specific aim is to develop an “exposure source to child disease status” model and test this model in several other survey-based large scale child development projects. This project will provide comprehensive insight into how, when, and under what circumstances early life environmental factors become biologically embedded to affect child health and development. It will also lead to policy interventions and/or treatment to improve living conditions for better children’s wellness. This interdisciplinary project is funded by a New Frontiers in Research Fund Exploration grant to the PI, Dr. Tao Huan.