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Rensselaer and Mount Sinai Team Up To Earn Prominent Role in New NIH Program in Environmental and Children’s Health


Media Relations

October 5, 2015

Rensselaer and Mount Sinai Team Up To Earn Prominent Role in New NIH Program in Environmental and Children’s Health

Collaboration is latest chapter in Rensselaer’s unique partnership with Mount Sinai

Troy, N.Y. — To support its groundbreaking work in the emergent field of “exposomics,” the National Institutes of Health (NIH), through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, awarded two grants to research teams from the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, led by Professor and Chair Robert O. Wright, MD, MPH, and by Susan Teitelbaum, Ph.D., in collaboration with Deborah McGuinness, Ph.D., of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). In addition, the State of New York and Mount Sinai provided $3.2 million to these grants in matching funds through the state’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation program (NYSTAR); these funds were critical in securing these grants.

“Exposomics” is the comprehensive study of environmental exposures in humans, from conception through development. The grants, totaling $20 million over four years, are from the NIH’s newly formed Child Health Environmental Assessment Resource program, or CHEAR. Mount Sinai is the only institution to receive grants for two of CHEAR’s three components.

The first—made possible by the Icahn’s School of Medicine’s partnership with RPI—will be for a Data Repository, Analysis, and Science Center, led by principal investigator Susan Teitelbaum, Ph.D., along with Chris Gennings, Ph.D., Patricia Kovatch of Mount Sinai, and RPI’s Deborah McGuinness, Ph.D.. The Data Center will address methodology for combining data from a wide range of environmental health studies, developing precise vocabularies for semantically accelerating the exposomics field, developing statistical approaches for analyzing exposomic/chemical mixtures, and performing BIG data science, integrating exposomics with genomics and epigenomics. The Rensselaer team’s PI McGuinness and co-PI Kristin Bennett will lead the ontology and data science research for the data center.

The second grant is for a Mount Sinai “lab hub” that will be part of the CHEAR National Exposure Assessment Laboratory Network, led by principal investigator Robert O. Wright, MD; Manish Arora, BDS, MPH, Ph.D.; Mary S. Wolff, Ph.D.; and Rosalind Wright, MD. The lab hub is based in the Senator Frank Lautenberg Laboratory for Environmental Health Sciences at Mount Sinai and consists of a Targeted Chemical Analysis Resource, a Biological Response Resource, an Untargeted Chemical Analysis (i.e., “Exposomic”) Resource, and a Development Core that will generate unique biomarker measures of environmental exposure with a special emphasis on reconstructing past exposure.

“Mount Sinai’s commitment to studying the impact of environmental exposures on children’s health is unparalleled, and these major grants are a testimony to the work done by Dr. Wright and his team,” said Dennis S. Charney, MD, the Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and President, Academic Affairs, Mount Sinai Health System.

“Rensselaer’s expertise in computational science and engineering, including data science, semantics, and predictive analytics, led by Deborah McGuinness, within the CHEAR grants will yield transformative knowledge about the effect of environmental factors on human development and lead to strategies to improve child health,” said Jonathan S. Dordick, Ph.D., the Howard P. Isermann Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Vice President for Research at Rensselaer.

Almost all diseases have both environmental and genetic causes. The overarching goal of CHEAR is to bring together environmental exposure measures with genomic measures of health risk. By linking environment with genetic risk, we will be better able to predict, prevent, and treat chronic diseases. CHEAR is designed to develop new methodologies and provide state-of-the-art tools and methodologies for researchers to assess a full array of environmental exposures that affect children’s health. CHEAR will also lead the extramural community in defining and developing the nascent science of exposomics—a comprehensive look at the health impact of chemical, physical, and biological stressors, as well as lifestyle and social environments, from conception through development stages.

The national CHEAR Program comprises three distinct units: the National Exposure Assessment Laboratory Network, providing access to state-of-the-art infrastructure for analysis of biological samples, as well as understanding biological responses associated with those exposures; a Data Repository, Analysis, and Science Center, which provides a repository for all data and support for statistical analysis and interpretation, and which will also lead the development of community-based data standards and support the development of technologies, ontology, and metadata standards; and a Coordinating Center, which will provides administrative management of these national resources, including an interface to the research community and an index of additional exposure analysis tools not included within the CHEAR infrastructure.

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute partnership combines the institutions’ complementary interdisciplinary strengths, to engage in radical innovation, for the purpose of creating the blueprint for 21st century science and health care delivery. Established in 2013, the education and research collaboration is focused on the development of new diagnostic tools and treatments that promote human health.

About the Mount Sinai Health System

The Mount Sinai Health System is an integrated health system committed to providing distinguished care, conducting transformative research, and advancing biomedical education. Structured around seven hospital campuses and a single medical school, the Health System has an extensive ambulatory network and a range of inpatient and outpatient services—from community-based facilities to tertiary and quaternary care. 

The System includes approximately 6,100 primary and specialty care physicians; 12 minority-owned free-standing ambulatory surgery centers; more than 140 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and 31 affiliated community health centers. Physicians are affiliated with the renowned Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, which is ranked among the highest in the nation in National Institutes of Health funding per investigator. Seven departments at The Mount Sinai Hospital and one at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary (NYEE) ranked nationally in the top 25 in the 2015-2016 “Best Hospitals” issue of U.S. News & World Report. Mount Sinai’s Kravis Children’s Hospital also is ranked in seven out of ten pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report.

For more information, visit or find Mount Sinai on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer is the oldest technological research university in the English-speaking world. As it approaches its bicentennial anniversary, Rensselaer continues to be a driving force behind breakthroughs in engineering and science in virtually every arena—from transportation and infrastructure to business, medicine, manufacturing, Big Data, outer space, and cyberspace. Visit for more information.


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About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, over 30 research centers, more than 140 academic programs including 25 new programs, and a dynamic community made up of over 6,800 students and 104,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include upwards of 155 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit