Lights, Camera, Research! PRHE takes the Spotlight on CNN

The scientific community usually disseminates research in peer reviewed journals, scientific magazines, and other academic literature. But sharing innovative research with a wider audience is also important – especially when it involves Emmy award-winning, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

In fall 2018, captivated by our work to understand how environmental exposures affect women and children’s health, CNN approached PRHE Director, Dr. Tracey Woodruff, with an opportunity to discuss PRHE’s work in a documentary hosted by Dr. Gupta. Dr. Woodruff shared the news with PRHE colleagues and connected us with the CNN producer. Our goal: condense Dr. Woodruff’s 20+ years of research into clips for an hour-long documentary.

One essential element in communicating scientific research is to make it relatable for an audience, which often involves a personal story – meaning step one was finding a study participant willing to speak on camera about her motivation for participating in our study about chemical exposures during pregnancy and the effect on child health. This study began in 2013 funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the United States Environmental Protection Agency as part of our UCSF Children’s Environmental Health Center, and has evolved into the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) study. The ECHO study is a seven-year project with 71 cohorts and 158 sites, including PRHE, funded by the National Institutes of Health. ECHO aims to “understand the effects of a broad range of early environmental influences on child health and development using existing and future data.”[1]

We are in the 3rd year of our ECHO study and have enrolled over 1000 women and children – and we are still actively recruiting participants. We follow women from the second trimester of pregnancy until their child turns four years old. At six different time points, we collect survey data on diet, chronic stress, and consumer product use. We also collect up to 10 unique biospecimen samples from mother and child including urine, blood, hair, and toenails for chemical analysis. To date, we have collected over 1,800 biospecimen samples from our participants. This data will help us better understand how chemical exposures and other factors combined affect health, and point the way towards changes for healthier pregnancies and babies.

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Prenatal & Perinatal Specimen Collection Overview for the UCSF ECHO Study (the time points our ECHO participant was in during filming)

After reviewing our ECHO participants with CNN’s qualifications in mind, PRHE’s Research Team found the perfect fit for this documentary in Manisha. Manisha and her partner CJ were interested in learning about their exposures to chemicals and inspired to speak out about eliminating toxic chemicals in every day products based on involvement in our ECHO study.

In January 2019 the CNN team, led by producer Chris Gajilan and her camera crew, arrived to scout locations and prepare for a day of filming with Dr. Gupta, the PRHE team, Manisha, and CJ. We quickly learned words like “B-roll”[2] and “tick tock”,[3] and heard about the adventures of the CNN team filming with Dr. Gupta under extreme conditions. Our whole team was inspired by their stories of being in war torn countries and filming the effects of natural disasters in an effort to provide the world with an authentic account of current events, much as they were doing by documenting our work to shed light on the dangers of chemical exposures.

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The day of filming began with the PRHE staff listening to Dr. Gupta interview Dr. Woodruff about PRHE’s important work and current EPA decisions that have undermined the science and the public’s health. The day included guest appearances by Drs. Josh Robinson and Jennifer Fung. The star, however, was Manisha, who touched the team by eloquently describing her involvement in the study and personal connections to the research. After approximately 3 months of planning, 8 hours of filming, and 20+ years of research, we are excited to share a succinct story about why we study the impact of environmental exposures on health, with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of our participants, their families, the public, and our own loved ones.

Watch “A Toxic Tale: Trump’s Environmental Impact” here by logging in via your cable provider, selecting Shows, and selecting CNN Special Report at https://go.cnn.com/?stream=cnn.

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PRHE Staff, with Collaborators Drs. Fung & Robinson, and Dr. Amy Murtha, Chair of the UCSF Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, with Dr. Sanjay Gupta

[1] Source: https://echochildren.org/

[2] B-roll footage is the supplemental video footage that filmmakers capture to enhance the story line and provide extra content for editing needs.

[3] Tick tock refers to the show flow or the schedule for the day of filming, which includes times, locations, personnel, as well as a brief description of the planned footage the video crew and producer would like to capture.