Photo of INMA-Environment and Childhood Project's team at the Scientific Conference held last november in Donosti (San Sebastian, Spain)
[This post has been written by Mònica López and Sílvia Fernández, postdoctoral researchers at ISGlobal]
Every year, the scientists participating in the INMA-Environment and Childhood Project meet to inform their colleagues about the work they are doing and the latest results of their studies. The conference also provides an opportunity for them to exchange ideas, share knowledge, experiences and news, and to organise group meetings on specific topics.
Every year, the scientists participating in the INMA-Environment and Childhood Project meet to exchange ideas, share knowledge, experiences and news
INMA is a project coordinated by ISGlobal that brings together seven birth cohorts located in different regions of Spain (Ribera d’Ebre, Menorca, Granada, Valencia, Sabadell, Asturias and Gipuzkoa). The aim of this study is to investigate the health effects of the most significant environmental pollutants in air, water and diet during pregnancy and childhood, with a particular emphasis on their effects on growth and development.
This year, the 15th INMA Scientific Conference was held on 14 and 15 November at the Universidad del País Vasco in Donostia-San Sebastian and was attended by 136 people.
Group photo of the ISGlobal team that traveled by bus from Barcelona to Donosti (San Sebastian) to participate in the INMA Scientific Conference
The conference theme was the effects of the urban environment on children’s health. Four experts gave presentations on different aspects of this topic. Oliver Robinson, a researcher at Imperial College London who is participating in the INMA Project, talked about the role of the urban exposome in health inequalities. Using results from the HELIX project, he showed how socioeconomic position determines our exposure to air pollution, noise and access to green spaces and how the relationship varies from city to city. For example, the results show that in Valencia and Bradford women with a higher socioeconomic position live in more healthy environments, areas with less traffic and pollution. In Sabadell and Oslo, however, the opposite was true; higher pollution levels were found in the more affluent neighbourhoods.
The conference theme was the effects of the urban environment on children’s health. Four experts gave presentations on different aspects of this topic.
Payam Dadvand, an ISGlobal researcher, highlighted the beneficial effects of green spaces on brain development, illustrating his talk with results from the BREATHE study, among others. Maria Foraster, an ISGlobal researcher whose specialty is the health effects of noise, explained that 25% of the population in Spain is exposed to noise levels in excess of recommended maximum thresholds. Such exposure has a negative impact on the cardiovascular health of the population, and this is even more serious if the noise interferes with sleep patterns. Finally, Carmen Hernández, a lecturer at Universitat Rovira i Virgili, talked about how a mother’s mental health during her pregnancy is a key factor in the development of her baby’s brain. She emphasised the need for interventions in pregnancy to specifically address this issue, thereby preventing mental health problems from being passed on from one generation to the next.
In addition to the invited experts, two ISGlobal principal investigators working on the INMA Project—Martine Vrijheid and Jordi Sunyer—also addressed the meeting.
Vrijheid talked about INMA’s international presence and the importance of collaboration between European cohort studies. She made reference to LifeCycle, a project launched last year to formalise existing ad hoc collaborations between cohort studies in different countries to facilitate data sharing in full compliance with new data protection legislation. At the same time, she pointed out the apparent contradiction we face when funding institutions demand open access to the data collected in the course of the study. During that session, Joan Grimalt, professor of Environmental Chemistry at CSIC and a participant in INMA, cited biodiversity as one of the distinctive characteristics of the project. He went on to attribute this diversity to the wide variety of researchers working on the many different initiatives that make up the project and to point out that this characteristic “serves to make us strong when our work is challenged by setbacks and scant resources”.
Martine Vrijheid talked about INMA’s international presence and the importance of collaboration between European cohort studies
Jordi Sunyer gave a master class during which he stressed the immense importance of collaboration to successful research. He also talked about the three pillars of the research process: the generation of ideas, the collection of data, and the interpretation of results. While the generation of new ideas is often given a lot of weight, Jordi Sunyer commented that “ideas are collective and nobody can believe that they actually own an idea”, supporting the premise that ideas are the fruit of collaboration between researchers. Sunyer also stressed the importance of rigorous and systematic data collection and, above all, placed special emphasis on the interpretation of findings. Scientists, he said, have a responsibility to interpret their results properly and to transfer the knowledge generated to society.
In Sunyer’s opinion, scientists “are motivated by a desire to know more, a restless need to answer questions, and the satisfaction of wanting to go further” in a constant search for human happiness, similar to that of artists and mystics. He also talked about the resilience of scientists when faced with the difficulties they encounter in their work, including the scarcity of resources. He highlighted the fact that “science has contributed and continues to contribute to constructing an understanding of our world and, as scientists, we will continue to cultivate our curiosity by reading, thinking, writing and striving to undertake projects of the highest quality for the pleasure of gaining knowledge and out of a willingness to serve”.
In Sunyer’s opinion, scientists “are motivated by a desire to know more, a restless need to answer questions, and the satisfaction of wanting to go further” in a constant search for human happiness
At the same time he reviewed the strengths and milestones of the INMA Project:
- Cooperation between Spanish researchers and international teams
- Coordination of European birth cohorts
- Numerous publications in high-impact journals
- Participation and leadership of projects in genetic research consortia
- Providing a solid base for the scientific careers of many young researchers
This year’s meeting was particularly emotive because Jordi Sunyer, founder and—until now–director of the INMA Project, announced that he was stepping down from the position and presented ISGlobal researcher Mònica Guxens as the project’s new director with a description of the excellence of her skills both as a scientist and as a team player and leader.
This year’s meeting was particularly emotive because Jordi Sunyer, founder and—until now–director of the INMA Project, announced that he was stepping down from the position and presented ISGlobal researcher Mònica Guxens as the project’s new director
Guxens will steer the Project as it deals with the new challenges presented by the change in the life stage of the study participants, most of whom are now preadolescents.
Jordi Sunyer, founder and—until now–director of the INMA Project, passes the baton to ISGlobal researcher Mònica Guxens as the project’s new director
At the close of the event, the INMA Project team thanked Jordi Sunyer for his many years of dedication and commitment with a heartfelt tribute, wishing him all the best in the implementation of the BISC project involving a new birth cohort in Barcelona.