The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a division of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has announced a cooperative agreement with the UNM Health Sciences Center for a $1 million a year, three-year study on pregnancy outcomes and child development in relation to uranium exposure among Navajo mothers and infants living on the Navajo Nation.

Dr. Johnnye Lewis, director of the Community Environmental Health Program at the UNM Health Sciences Center, and her research team will work with the ATSDR, Indian Health Service, Navajo communities, and other federal and Navajo agencies to enroll 1,650 pregnant women to be assessed during pregnancy and child birth. Infants will be assessed at birth, and for growth and neurodevelopmental outcomes up to 12 months of age. The study will also focus on building the infrastructure for longer-term follow-up of this cohort.

Uranium exposures on the Navajo Nation are a concern because of abandoned uranium mines and mills. There are 1,100 abandoned mines, mills and associated waste piles scattered throughout the area, which includes northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico.

Past research has identified uranium exposures as a possible contributor to several health conditions among the Navajo population, such as kidney disease. For these studies, only Navajo adults have been assessed. This will be the first study to observe pregnant women and their newborns.

"The goal of this project is to find answers to long-standing questions about the health conditions of children on the Navajo Nation," said Lewis. "The Navajo communities have always been concerned about the health and development of their children, and we will finally be able to search deeper into these concerns and develop concrete data for future studies."

The project is slated to start Sept. 1, 2010. The UNM Research team will include collaborators from the Southwest Research and Information Center as well as several Navajo community researchers. Within UNM, experts from the Department of Pediatrics and the Center for Development and Disability will participate in the project. The team will also work in close partnership with Navajo Nation's Division of Health, Navajo Nation Division of Education's Growing in Beauty Program, and Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency.