Rob McConnell

PIBBS Mentor

Preventive Medicine
Keck School of Medicine

Research Topics

  • Childhood Obesity, immunology of metabolic disease
  • Asthma
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Effects of Air pollution
  • Effects of E-Cigarettes

Research Overview

My research program has focused on population science approaches to understanding the effects of air pollution and other environmental exposures on childhood health. I am the PI of the Southern California Children’s Environmental Health Center, which is studying the role of air pollution in the development of obesity and its metabolic consequences in an interdisciplinary program integrating approaches from immunology, fat biology, physiology, animal toxicology, and epidemiology and exposure assessment. I work closely with immunologists to understand the role of adipose tissue macrophage polarization, T-reg and T-effector cells in the effects of air pollution on metabolic outcomes in young adults. A novel statistical framework will integrate mechanistic information from the animal toxicology study, from young adults undergoing adipose tissue biopsy, and a large population-based cohort followed since age five (from which the subjects for fat biopsy were selected).
I have also been the PI or co-I on several other studies developed from the Southern California Children’s Health Study (CHS) that is a key resource for the Children’s Center. The CHS is a large, ongoing longitudinal cohort study that has made important contributions to understanding the role of air pollution in the development of asthma, lung function and early markers of atherosclerotic heart disease. I have also studied the role of air pollution exposure in early life neurodevelopment and autism. I am interested in novel methods for assessment of exposure to environmental risk factors and physical activity in population studies and in the development and policy-relevant application of new tools for assessing “burden of disease” and public health impact of environmental exposure. Recently our group has developed a project on respiratory effects of e-cigarette use in a challenge study that is part of the Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science at USC. I have extensive experience mentoring graduate students, and I direct the Career Development Program for junior faculty and postdoctoral fellows in both the Children’s Center and the Southern California Environmental Sciences Center.
In the past I have examined the role of susceptibility to the effects of air pollution related to psychosocial stress and social factors, exercise, co-exposures associated with housing conditions, as well as genetics. I started my career studying health effects of pesticides in Central America, and I subsequently directed a WHO regional center for environmental health for Latin America and the Caribbean, where I was responsible for cooperative agreements of WHO with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Environmental Protection Agency, and with European science development agencies. I was a member of advisory committees to the Ministries of Health in the Americas and of the senior management team to the WHO Regional Director for the Americas. I am a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.