Current Issue, Fall 2018, Students 0

Learn by Doing

Geetika Kalloo, doctoral candidate, Department of Epidemiology

Kalloo, a fourth-year doctoral student in epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health, examines which chemical combinations pregnant women might be exposed to and how those exposures impact newborn outcomes and neurodevelopmental outcomes in early childhood.

What do you focus on in your doctoral studies here at Brown?

My dissertation looks at exposure to environmental chemicals during pregnancy and the impacts that might have on outcomes right at birth, like how big the baby is, how big their head is, etc. because all of these are indicators of future growth and development. More specifically, I’m looking at how this impacts neurodevelopmental outcomes, like whether or not a child gets ADHD for example. So far, as a community, we’ve only looked at these exposures one at a time but what my work does is it looks at a mixture of chemicals, because you and I aren’t exposed to one thing at a time. We don’t live in a vacuum and at any given moment we are being exposed to multiple environmental chemicals. So part of my work looks at how we can identify these mixtures and how these mixtures can impact children’s heath later on in life.

Why did you come to Brown for your PhD?

Joe Braun is my primary mentor and thesis advisor and his work is what brought me to Brown. I was pretty sure I wanted to do reproductive and perinatal work for my dissertation and as I was interviewing and learning more about programs, I learned about the work being done at the School of Public Health. Dr. Braun is phenomenally passionate about what he does and I wanted to work with someone who shared the same passion for this work that I do. He’s also affiliated with this great study, the HOME study based out of Cincinnati, which measures the effects of low-level exposures during and after pregnancy on children’s health outcomes.

Does your work take you out of the School of Public Health?

My work usually doesn’t take me beyond the School of Public Health but last summer I got a great opportunity to go observe the HOME study in action in Cincinnati. We observed clinic visits of mothers and their children who the study has been following from birth. When I went, they were just coming back for their twelve-year visit. It’s cool to be out in the field and see how this data is collected first hand because most of the time, it’s just me and my computer and a SAS data set.

What did you learn from that experience?

Seeing how data is collected first hand makes you really grateful for all the people who choose to participate in the process. It’s incredibly time consuming; people have to come and answer questions and give blood, provide stool, etc. All of this leads to incredibly useful data that we work with here at the School of Public Health, but none of this would happen if ordinary people, mothers and their children, chose not to participate.

What is one thing you would like the public to understand about your work?

Not everything is clear-cut. We don’t have a clear association between chemicals and health outcomes as we do with smoking and lung cancer for example; everything adds up incrementally and can lead to potential health issues later on in life. The other thing is that you can’t completely avoid exposure to environmental chemicals. They are all around us and while we can be more aware of what is in the products we use, there is only so much we can control. The onus cannot be on the person to figure out what is good and bad. This is why I want my work to have impacts on policy; because the only way to reduce exposure to truly harmful chemicals is to take it out of products we use completely, and the only that can be done is through regulation.

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