[This article has been published jointly with the CaixaCiència blog]
We’re ready to take on our great challenge: the environmental fieldwork for one of the largest studies on air pollution and pregnancy ever undertaken
The gear: 9,600 tubes for measuring nitrogen dioxide (NO2), 2,600 filters for sampling suspended particulate matter (PM2.5), 31 sound level meters, 40 mobile telephones, 31,200 urine sample cups, 45 humidity meters and thermometers, 44 bracelets to measure physical activity and sleep quality, 24 backpacks, 4 electric motorcycles and 200 metres of industrial-strength velcro. Armed with these tools and more, we’re ready to take on our great challenge: the environmental fieldwork for one of the largest studies on air pollution and pregnancy ever undertaken.
Glòria Carrasco (left) explains how the backpack that measures personal exposure works to Susana Pascual (right), pregnant volunteer who participates in the BiSC Project
The story started a few months ago, when Jordi Sunyer, head of the Childhood and Environment Programme at ISGlobal, and senior researcher Payam Dadvand invited me to work on an environmental exposure study in the framework of the BiSC project (Barcelona Life Study Cohort). The aim of the study is to analyse the impact of air pollutants on the placenta and on brain development in children, before and after birth. The researchers hoped to recruit 1,200 pregnant women to participate in the study. What a challenge! And how exciting!
I got down to work with Laia, Beatriz, Eduard and Berta, the other members of the project’s environmental exposures team. Over the last few months, we’ve been busily preparing everything for the project’s launch in early November. It was no small feat to get this operation off the ground: hours and hours of meetings, drawing up measurement protocols for the various exposures, checking all the instruments and filters, developing prototypes for the installation of sound level meters and NO2 measurement tubes, etc.
Jordi Sunyer, head of the Childhood and Environment Programme at ISGlobal and BiSC director, with the volunteer Susana Pascual
The logistics of the study gave us quite a few headaches. For example, we had to figure out how the team members would get around town every day to deliver backpacks, collect urine samples, charge instrument batteries, and download data quickly and effectively. We finally decided to get four electric motorcycles and set up a “base camp” at ISGlobal’s offices on the Hospital Clínic campus. This would allow us to be closer to the study’s volunteers, who are receiving pregnancy care at Hospital Sant Joan de Déu, Hospital Clínic and Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau.
Each participant wears a backpack containing various instruments for 48 hours (...). This is one of the novelties of our study: we measure the personal exposure levels
In a study like this, it’s essential that the volunteers feel truly involved. Instruments for measuring air pollution and outdoor noise will be installed on the facades of the volunteers’ homes for one week, and devices that measure temperature and humidity will be placed in their bedrooms. Each participant will also wear a backpack containing various instruments for 48 hours to measure their personal exposure to air pollutants (suspended PM2.5, black carbon and NO2). A GPS device will record their daily movements and a bracelet will measure their physical activity, sleep quality and exposure to light. Indeed, this is one of the novelties of our study: whereas most studies focus on residential exposure or use estimates from nearby measuring stations, we will be measuring the personal exposure levels of each participant.
The volunteers will take part in the environmental exposure measurement phase of the study during their first and third trimesters of pregnancy. That’s right: between bouts of morning sickness, we’re asking them to carry around a backpack filled with instruments for two days. For some of these women, participating in the BiSC project won’t be easy—they already have a million things to do in their daily lives, and some have young children. But despite all this, they’ve agreed to dedicate some of their time and energy to this study.
The volunteer Susana Pascual wearing the backpack filled with instruments
The project recently got underway and the feedback we’ve received from the first volunteers has been very positive and enthusiastic! They realise that city life entails health risks that need to be studied and prevented. They are donating their time now to help create a better future for their children, their grandchildren and future generations.
Our objective is to find 1,200 volunteers living in Barcelona or Esplugues de Llobregat who are in the first trimester of pregnancy
We are now busy recruiting the rest of the volunteers who will make up our cohort of pregnant women. Our first objective is to find 1,200 volunteers living in Barcelona or Esplugues de Llobregat who are in the first trimester of pregnancy and willing to make a two-year commitment to the study.
Detail of the bracelet measuring physical activity, quality of sleep and light (left), and NO2 tube (right)
BiSC is coordinated by ISGlobal, a centre supported by the ”la Caixa” Banking Foundation, in collaboration with the BCNatal centre (Hospital Sant Joan de Déu, Hospital Clínic and the University of Barcelona) and Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau.
The recruitment stage is essential to the success of the project. If you are in the first trimester of pregnancy, please visit www.BiSCproject.org to become one of 1,200 pregnant women who will help us build the cities we want: healthy urban environments where our children can enjoy a healthy childhood.