$8 Million Award Will Help Researchers Develop Early Warning Systems for ALS, Other Disorders

José Lopes, PhD avatar

by José Lopes, PhD |

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Scientist Manish Arora, PhD, received an $8 million Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to develop models to predict and possibly prevent diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Arora and his team developed the Biodynamic Interface, which proposes an interplay between the environment and the body in a field of research called exposomics. This theory will be combined with newly developed technology in the project “Early Warning Systems for Childhood and Adult Disorders,” aimed at preventing diseases that result from both environmental and genetic risk factors. Besides ALS, this includes autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and schizophrenia.

The award is supported by NIEHS’ “Revolutionizing Innovative, Visionary Environmental health Research” (RIVER) program, which recognizes outstanding environmental health researchers by offering up to $750,000 per year over eight years.

“I am grateful to the [NIEHS] for this award,” Arora, a professor and vice chair of the department of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said in a press release. “Understanding the environmental factors in autism, schizophrenia, and ALS could identify specific pathways related to the diseases’ pathology and could lead to an early warning system for these and other neurodevelopmental disorders.”

“The earlier these diseases are diagnosed or predicted, the earlier people can take advantage of therapies,” Arora added.

Arora has been working to find biomarkers that use human baby and permanent teeth to better understand the timing of exposure to harmful chemicals and essential nutrients, as well as the body’s response to such environmental factors. This work has focused on prenatal and early-life exposure in children with neurological disorders to assess the effects on health, disease, and development.

The researcher is a member of the Mount Sinai Institute for Exposomic Research. Exposomics uses a large-scale approach to assess all the exposures of individuals throughout their lifetime and how that affects health outcomes.

RIVER announced five other awards in the field of environmental health sciences. In its second year, the program is part of an ongoing effort to “support people, not projects,” and fund independent investigators’ research programs instead of the typical NIEHS support of research projects.

“This program is designed to give researchers intellectual and administrative freedom, as well as sustained support for up to eight years, to push their research in new and important directions,” said Jennifer Collins, the program coordinator. She added that RIVER seeks to fund investigators who have shown “a broad vision and exhibited the potential for continuing their impactful research through a research award that emphasizes scientific flexibility and stability.”