Dr. Marie Lynn Miranda focuses her research on children and their environments, both physical and social, and how these factors affect a child’s health. The research she presented at the Wege Foundation Speaker Series last Thursday was on the predictors of lead poisoning in children who live in any given area based on a variety of factors. Her research team uses Graphic Information Systems (GIS) to map specific household parcels with multiple levels of information such as the year the house was built, the tax value, the tenure type, census information such as race, median house income, poverty level and in some cases standardized test scores and blood lead screening data when available. These layers of information are mapped by parcel number forming a multi-layered map showing the houses of greatest risk. In this way individuals can then be targeted for suggested blood lead screening and intervention.
Another crucial aspect of Dr. Miranda’s research is applying the results. This is important in order to prevent lead poisoning and reverse the effects of lead poisoning in children who may already have some level of poisoning. Dr. Miranda explained that many times it is difficult to identify if a child has been affected by lead exposure because effects may be asymptomatic in some cases, and possibly categorized as another problem. Lead exposure can lead to children having damage to the central nervous system, reduced hearing threshold, reduced attention span, learning and behavioral disorders, and lowered IQ.
Research shows that exposing children to a rich and stimulating environment can greatly reduce and reverse the effects of lead poisoning. A program called Bringing Books to Children targets children who have been highly exposed to lead based on blood lead testing and GIS mapping of risk factors. Many communities in North Carolina have been aided by this program. In the future Dr. Miranda wishes to use GIS mapping to bring crucial information to communities whose children may be at risk for lead poisoning and other harmful environmental exposure.
Dr. Miranda became the Dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan in January of 2012. She also does work with the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases at the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and is the founding director of the Children’s Environmental Health Initiative (CEHI), a research, education and outreach program for fostering environments where children can prosper.