Courtney Kozul Horvath, Ph.D.
Courtney Kozul Horvath is a superb example of the caliber of student researchers being trained by the Superfund Research Program. Courtney’s work in low-dose arsenic exposure has earned her recognition and attention from both the scientific community and mainstream media.
A research career was not always in Courtney’s plans. She comes from a family of professional ballet dancers and spent her high school years training to become a ballerina at one of the world’s most prestigious professional dance academies. Then, while transitioning from student to professional dancer, Courtney sustained an injury. During her rehabilitation, she decided to enroll in college to explore a little more of the life she had given up to pursue her goal. She fell in love with science and hasn’t looked back since. When asked about that time, she says that her life experiences taught her just what can be achieved through hard work and perseverance.
Hard work and perseverance have served Courtney in good stead. She graduated in 2006 as valedictorian of Regis College with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. While a student at Regis, Courtney conducted independent research and worked as an intern at Genzyme. She credits these experiences with piquing her interest in basic and applied research and prompting her decision to pursue a graduate degree. In 2006, she joined the Molecular Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutics group at Dartmouth Medical School to study the toxic effects of chronic low dose environmental exposure to arsenic in drinking water--at or below 10 parts per billion (ppb), the current EPA standard for drinking water.
In order to gain a clear understanding of the changes small doses of a toxin will cause, Courtney needed to know the baseline exposure levels of arsenic the mice in her experiment experienced. She discovered that the standard mouse feed used in laboratory settings contained 390 ppb of total arsenic, 39 times the current exposure limit for drinking water. This prompted the research group to switch to purified mouse food, and the results of her research gained mainstream attention when they were featured in the March 2009 edition of The Scientist magazine.
After determining baseline exposure of the mice in her study, Courtney explored the effects of arsenic on the immune system. She found that chronic low dose exposure to arsenic led to a significantly altered cytokine production in the lung. This result was unexpected as the arsenic was ingested by the mice, and the usual exposure route for lung damage is inhalation. These results have led to further investigation of the effects of ingested arsenic on the lungs.
Courtney’s work has garnered a number of regional, national, and international awards. Beyond the media attention from the mouse feed studies, she received "Best Student Poster" awards at the SRP Annual Meetings in 2007 and 2008, and Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Student Poster Awards from the New England Membrane Enzymology Group in 2007 and 2008. The Society of Toxicology awarded Courtney a Graduate Student Research Award Honorable Mention in 2008 and four research awards and scholarships in 2009. Courtney was also honored with an "Outstanding Oral Presentation" award and travel scholarship at the International Central and Eastern European Conference on Health and the Environment in 2008.
Courtney completed her Ph.D. in December 2009. In 2010, she was awarded a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service F32 Award to study the immunotoxic effects of developmental arsenic exposure in the Department of Immunology at Dartmouth Medical School.