December 27, 2016 – Don’t Blame Grandma Yet, But Your Asthma May Be Her Fault
Toxicologist Dana Dolinoy, suspects that environmental exposures during infancy may trigger obesity later in life, and thanks to the state of Michigan, she may one day find an answer. The Michigan BioTrust for Health has conducted newborn screening for almost every child in the state since 1984. At birth, six drops of blood are collected from a baby’s heel, stored on paper cards and used to immediately screen for disorders like cystic fibrosis.
However, the blood spot cards have been a valuable tool for long-term research too. Michigan parents give consent at a child’s birth for anonymous research on the blood spots, but they can opt-out at any time. So if a scientist wants to conduct a geographical analysis — Did lead exposure in this town influence epigenetics markers versus this other town? — they can do so without needing to know the individuals and without getting consent.
“I’m involved with a study here in Michigan where we’re recruiting families and looking at lots of different risk factors for childhood obesity: sedentary lifestyle, video games, advertising. One of the things that we’ll ask is, ‘Could epigenetics at birth predict who will be obese later in life?” said Dolinoy, who works at the University of Michigan. That type of study requires knowledge of individual identities, and Dolinoy and her colleagues must personally request this information, but again, a parent can say no.