Tomás R. Guilarte, FIU’s incoming dean of the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, has gained worldwide recognition over the past 20 years for his research into the devastating effects of environmental lead exposure, especially for children. Now his efforts have received a $2.9 million boost from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
“Lead is still found in homes and other buildings around us, affecting the people who are exposed—especially children,” Guilarte said. “This award is a validation of the fact that the problem of lead exposure still needs to be addressed because it can affect children throughout their lives, with consequences for them, their families, our schools and our communities.”
The NIEHS grant will help support and continue Guilarte’s research into the effects of chronic early life lead exposure and disorders later in life. While it’s known that childhood lead exposure results in cognitive function deficits, much less is known about the neurological and mental health consequences when these lead-exposed children grow to be adolescent and young adults. Guilarte’s most recent studies indicate that early life lead exposure may lead to everything from lower IQ scores to schizophrenia in adolescence and adulthood.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that at least 4 million U.S. households have children that are being exposed to high levels of lead. Childhood lead intoxication currently presents a significant public health problem, not only in the United States, but around the world.
Guilarte specializes in neurotoxicology, neuroimaging and environmentally-induced neurological diseases. Guilarte uses behavioral, cellular and molecular approaches to reveal the effects of heavy metal exposure on the developing brain, focusing specifically on the molecular mechanisms by which lead impairs cognitive function. Guilarte will bring with him more than $7.5 million in active grant funding when he officially takes the reins of the Stempel College in January.