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Bruce Lanphear

Making a difference to children's health

September 17, 2008

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By Julie Ovenell-Carter

How will Bruce Lanphear measure success in his new position as professor of children’s environmental health in the Faculty of Health Sciences?

His answer is only half-joking: "I like to say that one of my goals is to work myself out of a job."

Recently arrived from Ohio where he was the director of the Cincinnati Children’s Environmental Health Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Lanphear holds degrees in medicine, and public health and tropical medicine.

A leading researcher in his field, Lanphear’s numerous population-based studies have confirmed that widespread exposures to environmental toxicants such as lead and tobacco have a demonstrably negative effect on children’s intellectual, behavioral and physical development.

"I didn’t actually start out wanting to be a researcher," says the 45-year-old epidemiologist and father of three daughters. "I wanted to make a difference to public health. I wanted to help shape policy."

That desire to "serve the public and community" is key to understanding Lanphear’s decision to uproot his young family and relocate across the border to Canada’s west coast.

"There was a lot to keep us in Cincinnati—I had an endowed chair and had received more than $17 million in research awards. But about three years ago I started to become discouraged by the social and political climate in the US. I saw research becoming increasingly corporatized, and industry interests contaminating the research process."

Coincidentally, Lanphear came to SFU as a visiting professor in 2006. Intrigued by "the radical history of SFU" and "the bright future" of the nascent Faculty of Health Sciences, he eventually decided SFU might offer a better academic fit.

"There is a tremendous enthusiasm for children’s health research and policy in Canada," notes Lanphear, "But currently there is a lack of expertise in the area of children’s health and the environment. I’m hoping to help make this kind of science more accessible to the broader public so they can make informed decisions."

His first course—Children’s Health and the Environment (HSC1473)—debuts in the spring of 2009, and he is already considering the scope of his first Canadian research project. "One of the possibilities is a study of how exposures to environmental toxins elevate the risk of children developing ADHD or autistic behaviours, comparable to one I am currently directing in the U.S."
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