Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology are learning more about how dangerous chemicals pregnant women in Indiana are exposed to can impact their health. It’s part of a large, multi-site study by Heartland Health Research Alliance called The Heartland Study.
“We’re recruiting a cohort of pregnant women in the early part of their pregnancies and measuring their exposure to herbicides throughout the course of pregnancy,” said David Haas, MD, MS, vice chair of research for the OB-GYN department and IU’s principal investigator for the study. “We’re going to look at pregnancy outcomes for both mom and baby, including things like preterm birth, preeclampsia and diabetes, and then we’re going to follow the babies and their health and development until three years of age.”
Herbicides and pesticides are chemicals used in farms and gardens to protect food crops, trees, vines and pastures from harmful weeds and insects. Some herbicides are also used in and around homes, parks, sports fields and golf courses. Herbicide use has increased significantly since the 1990s and is projected to rise rapidly on corn and soybean farms in the Midwest for the next five to ten years.
The name Heartland refers to the Midwest region and its high number of rural areas. Other sites included in the study are based in Wisconsin and future sites will likely include Illinois, Iowa, and others. Haas says it was important for IU to get involved because of how much agriculture happens in the state.
“We are in a very agriculturally heavy state that uses a lot of these chemicals, so it’s important to recruit people who are not just in rural areas, because these chemicals can get into the water or affect air quality in all parts of the state,” Haas said. “We are recruiting women in Indianapolis and also in a lot of the surrounding counties and rural areas throughout the state.”
The goal is to recruit 2,000 mother-infant pairs for the three-to-five-year-long study. Of all the participating sites, IU School of Medicine has recruited the most participants so far. Participants will provide urine and cheek swab samples at visits for researchers to analyze and will fill out surveys to help assess herbicide exposure risks. Once the babies are born, researchers will take cheek swab samples from the baby as well and then will follow their development until age 3.
“We use a lot of herbicides in this state, and we’re confident this study will help us provide knowledge and more informed counseling to improve the care for Hoosier women and families in the future,” Haas said.