September 13, 2017

A team of UNC researchers has been awarded a $3.25 million grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to investigate the role of the placenta as a driver of children’s later-life health.

Dr. Michael O'Shea

Dr. Michael O’Shea

Rebecca Fry.

Dr. Rebecca Fry

Rebecca Fry, PhD, associate professor of environmental sciences and engineering and director of the UNC Superfund Research Program in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, is a co-principal investigator on the grant along with Michael O’Shea, MD, division chief of neonatal-perinatal medicine in the Department of Pediatrics in the UNC School of Medicine.

Other grant investigators from the Gillings School include Julie Daniels, PhD, professor of epidemiology and maternal and child health, Matt Psioda, PhD, research assistant professor of biostatistics, and Fei Zou, PhD, professor of biostatistics.

Dr. Julie Daniels

Dr. Julie Daniels

Dr. Matthew Psioda

Dr. Matt Psioda

Dr. Fei Zou

Dr. Fei Zou

“This project aims to further our understanding of the molecular basis for relationships between early life events and child and adolescent health and developmental outcomes” O’Shea said.

As the researchers explained in their grant proposal, there is increasing evidence that the placenta plays a key role in sensing the prenatal environment and transmitting related genetic information to the fetus. Their project will use omics technologies – which explore the roles, relationships and actions of the molecules that make up the cells of an organism – to investigate the specific roles of the epigenome and the transcriptome in children’s health outcomes.

“This science is at the cutting edge of children’s environmental health,” Fry said. “We are excited to use state-of-the-art techniques to identify the role of the placental epigenome as an influencing factor in child health and disease.”

Fry and O’Shea also are recent awardees of a large grant from the Environmental Influences on Children’s Health Outcomes initiative of the National Institutes of Health.


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or

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