PRL-IHPS Focus: Environmental Health

Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH serves as Director of UCSF’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE)  and the UCSF Environmental Research and Translation for Health (EaRTH) Center. Both work at the intersection of science, medicine, policy and community.  Woodruff and her colleagues work across multiple disciplines to expand our understanding of sources and exposures to environmental chemicals during development and effects on health. Both centers prioritize filling gaps in knowledge that support clinical decision-making and public policy. 

Additionally, the EaRTH Center offers globally recognized expertise, cutting-edge science and state-of-the-art lab support, multi-disciplinary collaborations, to scientists and clinicians across and beyond UCSF to support expansion of research on the connections between environment health and health inequities. 

The EaRTH Center also supports community outreach and engagement, and grant funding to create new opportunities in environmental health research. The EaRTH Center recently awarded funds to three recipients of their inaugural Pilot Project Awards (50K each). These research projects will be completed by February 2022. 

  • "Proteomic profiling of primordial germ cells upon preconception exposure to environmental factors”
  • "Environmental Chemical Exposures and Fetal Liver Developmental Toxicity”
  • “Wildfire smoke in pregnant people in San Francisco Bay Area"

Woodruff, along with other researchers at PRHE and EaRTH Center researchers identified 55 chemicals not previously documented in people in a recent study demonstrating evidence of chemicals including PFAS, pesticides, and plasticizers, as well as 42 “mystery chemicals” in pregnant women and newborns. PRHE researchers also currently participate in the National Institutes of Health’s Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) study, the largest to date to examine how chemicals and pollutants in the environment affect children’s health and development. Additionally, PRHE researchers released a study last year which was referenced in a 2021 Report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Robert Hiatt, MD, and colleagues detailed the effects of climate change on cancers, in a study showing that the global crisis will bring an increase in cancer diagnoses, particularly lung, skin and gastrointestinal published in The Lancet Oncology.

While the effects of climate change on infectious disease has long been known, it is less clear with chronic disease such as cancers since unlike infectious disease, they do not appear in close proximity to each other. Hiatt and colleagues found environmental toxins, ultraviolet radiation, air pollution, infectious agents and disruptions in the food and water supply will all affect cancers in the future as the result of climate change.  The researchers found the most profound effect may be the disruption of the complex health care systems required for cancer diagnosis, treatment, and care.

Hiatt and colleagues offered population health interventions that could offset some potential increase in cancer risk as the world works to combat climate change through individual and community-wide behavioral and educational interventions.  Some examples of this are minimizing sun exposure and wearing sunscreen can modulate the relationship between climate change and cancer, and community interventions such as the use of clean-air shelters can reduce exposure to air pollution during wildfire events.

Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH

Dr. Woodruff's research advances understanding of how exposure to environmental chemicals affects early development and translating scientific findings to healthcare providers, policy makers and community groups to improve clinical care and support public policies that prevent prenatal exposures to harmful chemicals and lead to improved child and family health outcomes.



Robert Hiatt, MD, PhD

Dr. Hiatt is Professor and immediate past Chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UCSF and the Associate Director for Population Science of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and affiliated faculty at the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies. His research interests include cancer epidemiology, especially breast cancer, cancer prevention and screening, health services and outcomes research, the social determinants of cancer, and environmental exposures in early development related to cancer.