Tomás R. Guilarte has been awarded $2.9 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to continue his research into the effects of early life lead exposure on behavioral and neuropathological changes resembling those found in mental disorders such as schizophrenia later in life. The five-year grant will support and continue Guilarte’s 20-year-long investigation into the effects of environmental lead exposure on molecular and cellular mechanisms by which it produces behavioral and cognitive deficits. He will bring his research to the FIU Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, where he was recently appointed dean.
“Lead is still found in homes and other buildings around us, affecting the people who are exposed—especially children,” said Guilarte.
Childhood lead intoxication continues to be a significant public health problem not only in the United States but also globally. While it is now well recognized that childhood lead exposure results in cognitive function deficits, much less is known about the neurological and mental health consequences when these lead-exposed children grow to be adolescent and young adults. Dr. Guilarte’s most recent studies indicate that early life lead exposure alters molecular and cellular functioning that may lead to dysfunctional neural networks and a behavioral phenotype relevant to mental disorders such as schizophrenia in adolescent and adulthood.
“This award is a validation of the fact that the problem of lead exposure still needs to be addressed,” said Guilarte.
Guilarte specializes in neurotoxicology, neuroimaging and environmentally-induced neurological diseases. Guilarte uses behavioral, cellular and molecular approaches to reveal the effects of heavy metal exposure on the developing brain, focusing specifically on the molecular mechanisms by which lead impairs cognitive function. During the last 20 years, the long-term goal of his research involves identifying the relationship between chronic early life lead exposure (CELLE) and mental disorders later in life, including everything from lower IQ scores to schizophrenia.
Guilarte is recognized worldwide for revealing the effects of low-level lead exposure on the central nervous system during development and subsequently developing therapies to reverse these neurodegenerative effects.