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NIEHS Well Represented at the EPA Science Forum

By Jerry Phelps
June 2006

The EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) held its fifth Science Forum May 16-18 in Washington, DC at ORD's home in the Ronald Reagan Building. The meeting marked the first time NIEHS was invited to participate and the Institute sponsored an exhibit, speakers, and attendance by staff from the Superfund Basic Research Program (SBRP), the NIEHS Environmental Health Sciences Centers, and NIEHS DIR investigators.

The Forum attracted approximately one thousand participants. J. Craig Venter delivered the keynote address and focused his remarks on eco- and biodiversity. Venter is considered by many to be one of the leading genomic scientists of the 21st century. His presentation highlighted current efforts in advancing the science of genomics and in applying genomic advances to some of the world's most vexing public health and environmental challenges. This talk represented a new direction for Venter by highlighting his expansion into global ecology issues.

For the remainder of the first day, activities focused on the topic of individual susceptibility. Bill Suk, Director of the DERT Center for Risk and Integrative Sciences co-chaired the first session on Disease Susceptibility and the Environment, which featured a talk by Steven Kleeberger, Chief of the NIEHS Laboratory of Respiratory Biology. Kleeberger had the "honor" of following Venter to the podium. His talk, titled "The Genome and Disease Susceptibility," described how epigenetics and gene-environment interactions act together in complex diseases such as asthma. Kleeberger's lasting impression from the meeting is that new genomics tools may "change the definition of the most vulnerable population," which EPA uses for regulatory purposes.

Elaine Faustman, from the NIEHS-supported Environmental Health Science Center at the University of Washington, was on the same panel with Kleeberger. She explored susceptibility during vulnerable life stages including susceptibilities of children and how childhood environmental exposures may lead to health problems throughout life and the involvement of anti-oxidant genes in the aging process.

Chris Portier, NIEHS Associate Director for Risk Assessment, co-chaired the second day plenary session on "Global Challenges." This session focused on how the changing environment may give rise to potential new public health risks, and also on actions that could be undertaken to ameliorate these risks. The third day highlighted the built environment, with a plenary session presentation by Howard Frumkin, ATSDR.

Lou Rozier in the Office of Communications served as the NIEHS publicity coordinator. Beth Anderson, also in CRIS, served as the NIEHS liaison with EPA in organizing the meeting. Anderson who works closely with the SBRP said, "I am particularly pleased that many SBRP investigators took advantage of this opportunity to showcase the Program's research before such a large audience of EPA research and regulatory staff."

Other NIEHS presenters and attendees included Douglas Bell, Donald Cook, Julia Gohlke, Jane Hoppin, and Claudia Thompson.



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