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Environmental Factor, August 2012

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Promising environmental health researchers receive Superfund award

By Sara Mishamandani

Vanessa De La Rosa

Vanessa De La Rosa (Photo courtesy of Vanessa De La Rosa)

Steven O’Connell

Steven O’Connell (Photo courtesy of Steven O’Connell)

Sabine Vorrink

Sabine Vorrink (Photo courtesy of Sabine Vorrink)

Three talented Superfund Research Program (SRP) trainees received the 2012 K.C. Donnelly Externship Award Supplement, providing them an opportunity to enrich their research and extend their training in the field of environmental health science. Now in its second year, the annual award was established to honor environmental health researcher and superfund grantee Kirby Donnelly, Ph.D. The award supports SRP trainees, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows who are pursuing transdisciplinary research, and emphasizes the importance of research application and collaboration to promote human health.

The award provides the SRP trainees with up to $10,000 to fund supplies, travel, housing, and costs for research, training, and collaboration at other SRP centers, government laboratories, and state, local, or tribal agencies, for up to three months.

2012 recipients

Vanessa De La Rosa, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley — De La Rosa will travel to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to support her current research on trichloroethylene (TCE). She will focus on TCE’s metabolite, dichlorovinyl cysteine, and mechanisms that mediate TCE-induced renal cancer. Her research will provide insight into how DNA damage and repair facilitates toxicity and cancer due to TCE exposure.

“This research will supplement previous studies conducted in other organisms to identify conserved mechanisms of trichloroethylene toxicity,” said De La Rosa.

Steven O’Connell, a graduate student at Oregon State University — O’Connell will travel to the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund site to work with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) remediation specialists. He will conduct studies that use passive sampling devices to measure bioavailable contaminants in water and sediment. He hopes to further develop the technology and determine the levels of several contaminants found at the Superfund site prior to remediation.

“The externship will allow me to expand my knowledge base with professionals at the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund site, including scientists at EPA's Region 10,” said O’Connell. “Specifically, this opportunity will allow me to see how state, federal, and local parties collaborate with an ongoing Superfund remediation strategy, and how the bioavailable data I will provide might contribute.“

Sabine Vorrink, a graduate student at the University of Iowa — Vorrink will undertake an externship at the University of Arizona to study the effect of polychlorinated biphenyls and deprivation of oxygen on the metabolism of liver and skin cells. She hopes to learn new molecular techniques to supplement her graduate work. 

“This will extend my experience and scientific knowledge into related toxicology fields, and will significantly expand my training horizons,” said Vorrink.

The recipients of this year’s awards will present their research at the SRP 25th anniversary meeting Oct. 21-24 in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

(Sara Mishamandani is a research and communication specialist for MDB, Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Superfund Research Program, Worker Education and Training Program, and Division of Extramural Research and Training.)

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