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Are mothers and their children at risk from in utero exposure to grandmaternal smoking?

Institution: Sequoia Foundation
Investigator(s): Michelle Pearl,
Award Cycle: 2019 (Cycle 30) Grant #: T30IR0925 Award: $952,370
Subject Area: Environmental Exposure/Toxicology
Award Type: High Impact Research Project Award

Initial Award Abstract
It is well-known that women who smoke while pregnant can face pregnancy complications and their children can have lasting health problems. We are now learning that smoking during pregnancy may also affect the health of grandchildren, possibly by changing hereditary characteristics that are passed down. Although smoking rates have declined, many women currently giving birth in California have mothers who smoked while they were pregnant. This study will help us learn whether health problems in future generations are related to smoking while pregnant, and whether black and white mothers and children are affected in the same way. We will examine 235,000 birth records and blood samples linked across two generations, from 1982 to 2013. To test whether women in the first generation (grandmothers) smoked while they were pregnant, we will look for a chemical formed by smoking in 2,400 stored blood samples from their newborn daughters (future mothers). We will link to health records to find out which of those daughters eventually became obese or had high blood pressure when they became pregnant, and which of their children (the grandchildren) were born preterm or later developed autism. We will then compare whether those health problems are related to the grandmother's smoking while pregnant. These health problems are more common in black mothers and children, and sometimes in people with less education or income. The study will demonstrate whether smoking while pregnant was more common in grandmothers from these groups as well. Using statistical models, we will learn how much grandmother smoking while pregnant explains increased health problems in black or low income mothers and children in future generations. This kind of study can only be done in a state with as large and diverse population as California. Findings from this study could lead to more effective tobacco policies, change the way doctors ask about tobacco use, and educate women about the very long-term risks associated with smoking while pregnant.