Superfund Research Program
Fry Welcomed as New UNC SRP Center Director
Rebecca Fry, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill's (UNC) Gillings School of Global Public Health, has been named director of the UNC Superfund Research Program (SRP).
"In North Carolina and nationally, we are faced with serious environmental issues that need to be tackled with diverse interdisciplinary teams," Fry said. "I am excited to lead our group, with a mission to employ advanced risk analysis to protect populations at risk from these environmental harms."
Fry, a biomedical researcher, joined the Gillings faculty in 2008. She is recognized internationally for her research in systems toxicology and environmental epigenetics, focusing on the molecular mechanisms underlying environmentally-induced disease. She has extensive experience overseeing complex research programs and previously served as deputy director for the UNC SRP.
Prior to being selected for this position, Fry served as co-principal investigator for an NIEHS-funded training grant that provides pre- and postdoctoral support for more than 25 graduate and postdoctoral trainees across three different departments within Gillings.
A current focus in Fry's lab is studying prenatal exposure to various types of metals, including arsenic, cadmium, and lead, which are often found at Superfund sites. In particular, she looks at the epigenetic effects of exposure to such metals.
For instance, Fry and her team are studying the gene-environment interactions of cadmium-induced effects on newborn birthweight in a pregnancy cohort from North Carolina. Results from this work will help identify genetic bases for cadmium-induced changes and determine reasons for susceptibility.
To advance further the use of epigenetics, Fry seeks to work with other researchers to create a database repository to gather and organize research findings. According to Fry, such a repository would enable researchers to answer more effectively questions on – and identify research gaps in – risk assessment.
Fry also recently published a book that provides a comprehensive introduction to the use of systems biology, a way of modeling complex biological systems, in assessing environmental exposures to contaminants and their human health impacts.
Fry succeeds James Swenberg, D.V.M., Ph.D., Kenan Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering at UNC, who led the SRP from 1992 to 2015.
"Dr. Fry is well-positioned to lead the UNC Superfund Research Program, continuing our longstanding emphasis on improving risk assessment and also leading us in new directions," Swenberg said.
Oregon State SRP Center Receives University Awards
The Oregon State University (OSU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center was recognized for its outstanding contributions to the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences through two departmental awards in August. The awards highlight the interdisciplinary success of the Center as well as exceptional leadership by one of its project leaders.
The OSU SRP Center was awarded the James and Mildred Oldfield/E.R. Jackman Team Award that recognizes superior and distinguished interdisciplinary team achievements through teaching, research, international, or extended education activities of faculty and staff. This award highlights the importance of interdisciplinary team efforts in achieving the goals of the College of Agricultural Sciences.
OSU SRP Center project leader David Williams, Ph.D., received the Arnold Leadership award, which recognizes an administrator for outstanding contributions to the research mission of the OSU College of Agricultural Science. The award is intended to honor the noteworthy leadership in advancing the research mission of the College of Agricultural Sciences.
The OSU SRP Center brings together a multidisciplinary team with years of experience in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and environmental health issues. The Center currently has five research projects working together with support cores from both Oregon State University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Investigators emphasize basic and applied research using state-of-the-art techniques to better understand PAHs and their impacts on human and ecological health.
Crossing Geographic and Discipline Borders at the PBC Meeting
The NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) and the Center for Global Health at the National Cancer Institute were among the cosponsors of the 16th International Conference of the Pacific Basin Consortium for Environment and Health (PBC), held August 10-13 at the University of Indonesia. SRP staff and grantees were involved throughout the conference, which focused on the most pressing environment and health issues of our time, cooperative research, and innovative strategies for addressing these issues.
“The PBC parallels the goals of the SRP — environmental science and engineering, human health, and community engagement — but on a global scale,” said Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., SRP health science administrator.
In the first plenary session, SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., discussed changing exposures in a changing world and laid out models for reducing the burden of disease. Heacock chaired a symposium on prevention and intervention strategies to reduce exposure to electronic waste (e-waste).
Presentations of research supported by the NIEHS SRP included:
- Bernhard Henning, Ph.D., University of Kentucky, nutrition interventions against environmental insults
- Celia Chen, Ph.D., Dartmouth College, connecting mercury science to policy
- Keith Pezzoli, Ph.D., University of California at San Diego, creating just and healthy bioregions
Jeffrey Crosby, Ph.D., chief technical officer of Picoyune, an SRP-funded small business, spoke about a mercury sensor/monitor that offers more robust and less expensive mercury measurements than current methods used with liquid or aqueous samples. SRP supported the sensor’s initial development as part of the University of California, Berkeley program, which highlights a great example of SRP research leading to a small business innovation.
Delving into E-Waste
The PBC meeting was followed by an in-depth workshop on prevention and intervention strategies to reduce exposure to e-waste, which was convened by NIEHS in collaboration with the World Health Organization, Chulabhorn Research Institute in Thailand, Children’s Health and Environment Program at the University of Queensland, and the U.S.-based nonprofit Pure Earth. The workshop brought together public health, engineering, and other experts. Case studies from Ghana, Uruguay, China, and the Philippines examined successes and lessons learned toward reducing exposure to e-waste. Building on the case studies, breakout groups centered on reducing exposures, monitoring, and communications.
“We organized the workshop with the goal of providing practical recommendations,” Heacock said. “It was also unique because we incorporated engineering techniques with discussion of strategies such as how to communicate risk and increase use of personal protective equipment.”
The e-waste workshop kicked off with a short video, where Suk explains how burning or dismantling e-waste results in contaminants, including PCBs and other chlorinated organics, entering the water supply and air.