Skip to main content
Explore URMC



Iron & the brain: Where and when neurodevelopmental disabilities may begin during pregnancy

Monday, March 6, 2023

Study finds possible cellular origin for impairments associated with gestational iron deficiency

The cells that make up the human brain begin developing long before the physical shape of the brain has formed. This early organizing of a network of cells plays a major role in brain health throughout the course of a lifetime. Numerous studies have found that mothers with low iron levels during pregnancy have a higher risk of giving birth to a child that develops cognitive impairments like autism, attention deficit syndrome, and learning disabilities. However, iron deficiency is still prevalent in pregnant mothers and young children.

The mechanisms by which gestational iron deficiency (GID) contributes to cognitive impairment are not fully understood. The laboratory of Margot Mayer- Proschel, PhD, a professor of Biomedical Genetics and Neuroscience at the University of Rochester Medical Center, was the first to demonstrated that the brains of animals born to iron-deficient mice react abnormally to excitatory brain stimuli, and that iron supplements giving at birth does not restore functional impairment that appears later in life. Most recently, her lab has made a significant progress in the quest to find the cellular origin of the impairment and have identified a new embryonic neuronal progenitor cell target for GID. This study was recently published in the journal Development.

“We are very excited by this finding,” Mayer-Proschel said, who was awarded a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development in 2018 to do this work. “This could connect gestational iron deficiency to these very complex disorders. Understanding that connection could lead to changes to healthcare recommendations and potential targets for future therapies.”

Read More: Iron & the brain: Where and when neurodevelopmental disabilities may begin during pregnancy

University Launches Institute for Human Health and the Environment to Find Solutions to the 21st Century’s Most Pressing Health Issues

Friday, January 13, 2023

The foods we consume. The air we breathe. The stress we experience. The chemicals we are exposed to (willingly and unwillingly). The changing climate. Everything in and around us influences our health. Amazingly, quality of life and longevity are more closely tied to where someone lives than their genetic code.  

The University of Rochester believes that finding solutions to the 21st Century’s most pressing health issues – including cancer, heart disease, neurodegenerative disorders, and our ability to fight infection – requires a collaborative commitment to research, education, and community engagement related to how the environment influences health across the lifespan. The new UR Institute for Human Health and the Environment (IHHE) will bring this vision to life.

Led by B. Paige Lawrence, Ph.D., the Institute will serve as a local and national hub to catalyze new scientific discoveries related to environmental impacts on health and transform this information into actions that will promote healthier lives for all. 

“The University has been a leader in research and education in environmental health and toxicology since the 1940s, so we’re building off an extremely strong foundation,” said Lawrence, the Wright Family Research Professor and chair of the department of Environmental Medicine. “Many teams are already conducting research, teaching, and working with community members on issues related to the environment and health, but we know we can do more. It is exciting to launch this new institute, and I encourage folks to get involved. We want to hear what people across the University are passionate about and help to make their work more impactful. I encourage anyone who is interested to check out our web site and reach out to us – we want to hear from you!”   

“Environmental factors such as geographic location and exposure to toxins have a profound impact on susceptibility to disease,” said Mark B. Taubman, M.D., URMC CEO and dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry. “Some populations are disproportionately affected by these environmental risks, particularly communities of color. Collectively, we have the experience needed to partner with these communities and to use our knowledge to modify or prevent risk factors and make a difference in their lives.”

The IHHE will integrate programs and expertise from across all UR schools and will be anchored by three interactive pillars: Research; Career Development and Education; and Engagement. Initially, the Institute’s key areas of focus will include climate change and health; environmental justice; how water and air pollution impact health; and how environmental factors shape health across our whole lifetime.


The IHHE will serve as a major hub for innovative and inclusive research that melds academic and scholarly disciplines. By creating new opportunities to gather knowledge and bring together different points of view, and through the sharing of expertise, the IHHE will propel research on many facets of environmental health. Gaining a better understanding of the intrinsic molecular, cellular, and socioeconomic mechanisms that underpin associations between health and the environment will transform care and lead to new ways to improve public health.

Career Development and Education

The Institute will support education and career development across all career stages. It will enhance existing programs, including an undergraduate major in Environmental Health, and multiple graduate programs, including Toxicology, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics & Computational Biology. Understanding how environmental factors influence health is already part of several other programs anchored in Public Health Sciences, Neuroscience, Engineering, and Data Science. The Institute will strengthen and extend connections between these programs and support a more diverse and inclusive environment to recruit and retain highly talented individuals. The Institute will also support programs for K-12 students in the Rochester area.


The IHHE builds on a long history of environmental justice and community engagement related to how the lived environment influences the health of individuals and communities. This includes working with local community members to develop, evaluate, and disseminate community-based approaches to solve problems. For example, teams at UR contributed to Rochester’s local lead poisoning prevention system, which has resulted in lead poisoning rates declining 2.4 times faster than elsewhere in NY State, and has served as a national model for community-based action. Activities will be anchored in multidirectional engagement between the University and local and global partners to shape research and to evaluate and inform changes in policies, systems, and communities.

Anyone who is interested in learning more about the Institute and how they can get involved can visit the IHHE web site or reach out to the leadership team: