Training the Next Generation of Environmental Professionals
Superfund Research Program
- Daniel Gusenleitner, Boston University SRP Center
- Megan Creighton, Brown University SRP
- Thomas Bruton, University of California, Berkeley SRP
- Li Xiao, University of Kentucky SRP
- Leslie Knecht
- Birgit Claus Henn, Ph.D.
- Nour Abdo
- Andy Larkin
- Oleksii Motorykin
- Xabier Arzuaga, Ph.D.
- Maggie Murphy
- Zuzana Majkova, Ph.D.
- Sarah Allan
- Dan Brown
- Seunggeun Lee
- Sara Pacheco
- Corin Hammond
- Katryn Eske
- Alison Cohen
- Elizabeth Hoover
- Brad Newsome
- Courtney Kozul Horvath, Ph.D.
- Kathleen McCarty, Ph.D.
- Nick Sinnott-Armstrong
Daniel Gusenleitner, Boston University SRP Center
Daniel Gusenleitner is helping us better understand cancer, from prevention to treatment, by using algorithms to model the behavior of cells or tissues after they have been exposed to all sorts of chemicals. He looks for differences between chemicals that can cause cancer and safe compounds. Gusenleitner is a doctoral student at the Boston University Superfund Research (Boston SRP) Center under the guidance of Stefano Monti, Ph.D.
As part of his research, Gusenleitner is using these models to identify potential carcinogens, but also to learn about underlying molecular mechanisms that can be responsible for cancer development. Using a large-scale dataset from the National Toxicology Program, the DrugMatrix Database, Gusenleitner, with others from Monti's research group, built a model to predict whether a chemical is a carcinogen, and validated it with a dataset of information from rats treated with 72 different chemicals. In an article published in the journal PLOS One, they show that these computational models of short-term exposure to a chemical can predict long-term cancer risk (see the NIEHS Environmental Factor for more on the study).
Outside of his SRP research, Gusenleitner is also working on cancer treatment stratification, which involves matching cancer patients with a therapy that maximizes their survival chance. Gusenleitner and his research team recently published an article in the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics that establishes a framework for classifying and stratifying certain types of tumors.
Gusenleitner hails from Austria and has lived and worked in several different countries, including Sweden, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In addition to being an avid traveler, he has a passion for cooking and baking, and is known for keeping up the spirit in his lab by bringing in his delicious, homemade apple strudel!
Megan Creighton, Brown University SRP
Megan Creighton’s doctoral work explores the relationship between the risk of exposure to nanomaterials and material properties. She seeks new ways to intelligently design nanomaterials for both function and safety. Under the guidance of Robert Hurt, Ph.D. at the Brown University Superfund Research Program (Brown SRP), Creighton focuses on potential applications for graphene-family nanomaterials (GFNs).
Creighton investigates how the particle size and geometry of GFNs affects their interaction with cells and movement through a body upon exposure. Understanding the influences on material interactions with their surroundings will eventually lead to more accurate information for environmental decision-making, allowing for the safe and sustainable development of GFN-based technologies.
With six peer-reviewed publications, Creighton's most recent publication in Environmental Science & Technology explores the use of surface-engineered, nanoparticle-based dispersants for marine oil spills. The study, an interdisciplinary effort with a Brown SRP research group led by Agnes Kane, M.D., Ph.D., focused on designing and evaluating a new class of high-efficiency, low-toxicity, particle-based alternative dispersants to replace the synthetic chemicals currently deployed.
For her innovative research, Creighton received a prestigious U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results (EPA STAR) award in 2013. She also has four best paper and best poster awards. She won first place at the Carbon Nanomaterials Graduate Student Award session at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers annual meeting for her work on the barrier properties of GFNs in liquid systems.
When she isn't in the lab, Megan likes to be outdoors, especially skiing and fly-fishing. She also enjoys reading, baking, and drinking coffee.
Thomas Bruton, University of California, Berkeley SRP
Thomas Bruton is finding innovative ways to clean up contaminants in groundwater through his work as a doctoral student in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California (UC) Berkeley. Under the guidance of David Sedlak, Ph.D., Bruton's research focuses on the use of persulfate as a chemical remediation agent for contaminants in groundwater.
He began his doctoral work investigating persulfate treatment as way to clean up contaminated aquifers. The treatment typically involves injection of other chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide or chelated iron, to activate the persulfate. Bruton and others in his research team showed that the addition of these activator chemicals may be unnecessary because persulfate can be activated by naturally-occurring iron and manganese-containing minerals in an aquifer. This finding could lead to persulfate treatment that is more efficient and less costly. The first of two papers on this subject was recently published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
In the next phase of his research, Bruton is investigating whether chemical oxidants like persulfate can be used effectively to treat contaminants that are present in groundwater due to improper disposal of fire-fighting foams.
Before attending UC Berkeley, Bruton received a National Science Foundation fellowship to work with SRP grantee Rolf Halden at Arizona State University, where he completed a master's degree and co-wrote a review on the Effect of Nanoscale Zero-Valent Iron Treatment on Biological Reductive Dechlorination.
When he is not in the lab, Bruton takes advantage of the great outdoors in northern California. He is an avid runner and hiker, and is learning to surf. The photo shows Bruton in Yosemite National Park.
Li Xiao, University of Kentucky SRP
Li Xiao, Ph.D., made extraordinary advances in how synthetic membranes can be used for water treatment during her graduate work at the University of Kentucky Superfund Research Program (Kentucky SRP). Her engineering research integrates nanotechnology and membrane systems to detoxify water through the use of non-toxic nanoparticles and green chemistry approaches.
Under the guidance of Dibakar Bhattacharyya, Ph.D., Xiao developed an innovative way to filter from water chlorinated organic contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and trichloroethylene (TCE), degrading these chemicals to nontoxic products during the process.
In 2014, Xiao received the highly competitive American Institute of Chemical Engineers Separations Division Graduate Student Research Award, and she was earlier recognized as an Outstanding Graduate Student from the University of Kentucky Chemical and Materials Engineering department.
Also accomplished in scientific publishing, Xiao is first-author for two papers, one in the Journal of Applied Polymer Science and the other in the Journal of Membrane Science, and she wrote two book chapters about advanced responsive membrane technology to remove toxic contaminants from water.
With Bhattacharyya, she has a patent on a water purification device and method to decontaminate water using temperature responsive membranes. The patent was licensed by Ultura Inc., a company in California that specializes in high recovery membrane technology. She recently accepted a position at Ultura Inc. as a research and development scientist and will continue to advance functionalized membrane-related applications in water treatment and other environmental fields.
When she isn't in the lab, Xiao enjoys baking and gardening. For more background on her SRP work, check out Xiao's University of Kentucky Reveal outreach video from 2012.
Leslie Knecht is committed to improving how we detect contaminants in the environment and strives to help other students achieve in science as a mentor. Knecht is a Ph.D. student at the University of Miami working with Superfund Research Program (SRP) investigator Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., as part of the University of Kentucky SRP.
Detecting environmental contaminants in the field helps scientists and others working on hazardous waste sites know what hazardous chemicals are present without having to send samples back to a lab for processing. Remote site detection requires sensors to be selective, sensitive, rugged, and amenable for use by untrained personnel. Knecht has developed cell-based sensors encapsulated within Bacillus subtilis spores to detect environmental contaminants. These spores are able to withstand harsh environmental conditions which make them ideal whole-cell biosensors for field work
To make the spores more portable, Knecht used filter paper-based platforms on which detection of a target contaminant in environmental samples can be performed. The paper-based platform is inexpensive and simple to design, making it useful for a variety of applications. Specifically, she has used B. subtilis cells to detect arsenic and organoarsenicals on paper-based platforms.
Knecht has received numerous fellowships including a National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship. She was also the recipient of the 2014 University of Miami Graduate Student Exemplar Award.
In her spare time, Knecht enjoys reading, running, and spending time with her husband and son. Knecht has also overcome a number of challenges, including a stroke her first semester of graduate school, and strives to help others through community service, which was highlighted on the NSF Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship website. For more on Knecht’s story, passion, and challenges, check out the LabTV short video showcasing Knecht. The video won the “Outstanding Role Model Award” at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Birgit Claus Henn, Ph.D.
Birgit Claus Henn, Ph.D., is a mom on a mission to understand how metals, such as lead, arsenic, and manganese, can affect birth weight, length of pregnancy, and child cognition and motor development. Claus Henn went from being a Harvard School of Public Health Superfund Research Program (SRP) trainee to a Research Associate in the Harvard SRP. She was a postdoctoral fellow with the Harvard SRP Center since the fall of 2010 until October of 2013, when she was awarded an NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) to examine metal mixtures, sensitive developmental windows, and children’s neurodevelopment. Claus Henn now continues her work with Harvard SRP to explore exposures to pollutants in the environment, mainly metals, and their impact on children’s health.
Claus Henn is working to answer critical questions about children’s health, all while balancing being a mom to two young girls. She understands the importance of putting research studies into a real life context. This is why she has expanded her research to study the relationships of chemical mixtures, rather than individual chemicals, on the body. Humans do not live in a laboratory, exposed to one chemical at a time, but rather are exposed to multiple chemicals on a daily basis. Therefore, looking at the overall effects of multiple exposures creates a more realistic and holistic picture of these interactions.
Claus Henn’s research is focused on implementing novel statistical tools to make sense of the relationship between mixtures of four or five metals with neurodevelopmental outcomes. She also plans to partner directly with metals toxicologists in the hope of understanding how epidemiologic and toxicologic data can complement one another to better understand effects of combinations of metals.
Claus Henn published a review in the journal Current Opinion in Pediatrics summarizing the recent literature examining chemical mixtures and pediatric health outcomes, with an emphasis on metal mixtures. She was also awarded the 2014 Michael Shannon Research Award by the Academic Pediatric Association.
When Claus Henn is not at work, she’s spending time outdoors with her family. She has even run up Mt. Washington, which is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States, with an elevation of 6,288 feet and a 19% maximum grade.
Nour Abdo wants to understand how to harness the power of the human genome to better understand how chemicals in the environment affect human health. Abdo is a toxicology Ph.D. student with Ivan Rusyn, Ph.D., at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Superfund Research Program (SRP).
Abdo uses a high-throughput model based on the human population to screen for chemical toxicity. Through her research, she is assessing the validity of using a population human model system to assess chemical toxicity. She is also identifying genes that may be related to chemical susceptibility.
Abdo is evaluating the differences in susceptibility between different people in response to chemical exposure across genetically diverse populations using a high throughput large scale in-vitro model. In December, Abdo gave a presentation at NIEHS on the high-throughput in vitro model she is working with, the 1000 Genomes Toxicity Screening Project. The effort is conducted in collaboration with UNC biostatisticians and with researchers at NIEHS and N.C. State University. The 1000 Genomes-based in vitro screening model offers exceptional opportunities for identifying variations in response to environmental chemicals at the DNA sequence level, enhancing high-throughput risk assessments by establishing population-based confidence intervals in toxicity, and establishing potential modes of action for environmental compounds.
Abdo, a Jordan native, received her Bachelors of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery (equivalent to a D.V.M.) in Irbid, Jordan. She also received a Masters of Public Health from New Mexico State University before she began her Ph.D. at UNC. Abdo has also won a number of awards during her time at UNC, including first place for her poster at the 2013 North Carolina Society of Toxicology meeting. In her spare time, Abdo enjoys traveling and exploring new sights.
Andy Larkin is not only doing great work to understand how pollutants in the atmosphere affect human health, he is also committed to presenting his findings to the general public. Larkin is a Ph.D. student working with Oregon State University (OSU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) investigators David Williams, Ph.D., and William Baird, Ph.D.
His Ph.D. research involves several different projects, all of which are designed to bridge the gap between basic air pollution modeling research and assessing and reducing risk from air pollution. Larkin is working on computational modeling for predicting biological responses to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) mixtures, hazardous chemicals that are often detected in the air, real time forecasts of atmospheric particulate matter, and ozone for the state of Oregon. He is also developing smartphone programs to predict and prevent atmospheric pollutant exposures.
While he has won an impressive seven awards as a graduate student, he was most proud of winning second place in the Oregon State three-minute thesis competition. Although not the most prestigious of his awards, Larkin explains that, “Creating a summary of a thesis designed to be understood by the public and less than three minutes in length was by far the most challenging presentation of my graduate studies, and it was thoroughly rewarding to have so many members of the general public understand and enjoy the presentation.”
Larkin gave a presentation on atmospheric pollutant models and smartphones in a 2013 Risk e Learning webinar in the series on using Geographic Information System (GIS) tools to analyze, computer, and predict pollution. See the EPA Clean-up Information page for an archive of the webinar.
After Larkin finishes his Ph.D., he hopes to work for a research group or regulatory agency to develop technologies for reporting real-time risk assessment and risk communication information to help to prevent unwanted exposures in sensitive populations. When he isn’t busy working on his graduate research, he enjoys community volunteer work and ultramarathon running. Larkin ran the Portland Marathon on October 6, 2013 and an ultramarathon in the Florida Keys 100 mile run in May, 2014.
Superfund Research Program
Oleksii Motorykin, a Superfund Research Program (SRP) trainee at Oregon State University (OSU), found for the first time that lung cancer deaths are linked to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) emissions that pollute the air, independent of cigarette smoke. As a result of his hard work and discoveries, Motorykin received two prestigious awards from the Division of Environmental Chemistry of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in 2013.
Motorykin received a 2013 Graduate Student Award in Environmental Chemistry. The ACS Division of Environmental Chemistry sponsors up to 25 annual awards to full-time graduate students based upon students’ records in course work, evidence of research productivity, and on statements from graduate faculty advisers.
He also won a 2013 Graduate Student Paper Award for an article about his findings that will soon appear in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. This is the highest award given by the ACS Division of Environmental Chemistry to its student members.
Motorykin investigated the relationship between lung cancer mortality rates, carcinogenic PAH emissions, and smoking on a global scale. He also assessed the contribution of carcinogenic PAH emissions to lung cancer mortality rates for countries with different socioeconomic groupings. He found a positive association between lung cancer deaths and PAH emissions, independent of smoking prevalence, for high income and for the combination of upper middle and high socioeconomic country groups. This study is the first to link PAH emissions with lung cancer on a global scale and shows the need to take air pollution into account when assessing lung cancer risks.
Motorykin is a graduate student with Staci Simonich, Ph.D., who leads an OSU SRP project to understand the composition, exposure, and mutagenicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in highly exposed populations.
Xabier Arzuaga, Ph.D.
Xabier Arzuaga, Ph.D., is a former SRP-funded graduate student and post-doctoral researcher from the University of Kentucky. He is now working as a risk assessor and toxicologist for the Integrated Risk Information System at the EPA.
Xabier graduated magna cum laude from the University of Puerto Rico in 1998 with a Bachelors of Science in Coastal Marine Biology. While there, he participated in an undergraduate exchange program, which brought him to the University of Kentucky (UK)., where he worked in an aquatic toxicology laboratory. This experience sparked his interest in toxicology and prompted his decision to return to Kentucky and join the Graduate Center for Toxicology after completing his undergraduate coursework.
While at UK, Xabier studied in the lab of Dr. Adria Elskus in the Department of Biological Sciences. He investigated the molecular and biochemical mechanisms of resistance to organic pollutant-induced toxicity in chronically contaminated killifish populations. His project was entitled "Mechanisms of resistance to halogenated and non-halogenated AHR ligands in chronically contaminated killifish populations." He completed his graduate research in 2004.
After finishing his graduate research, Xabier worked as a post-doctoral researcher in Dr. Bernhard Hennig's lab, on a project to understand the interactions between nutrition and persistent organic pollution exposure. Here, he was afforded many opportunities. He mentored undergraduate students and helped them design projects in cardiovascular and nutritional toxicology research. He says this helped him to gain confidence in his leadership skills and teamwork. The work also led to a greater appreciation of the role nutrition plays in health outcomes after pollutant exposure. Xabier's work in Dr. Hennig's lab helped him to appreciate the role that nutrition plays in the outcomes of pollution exposure. He now considers nutrition to be an important risk factor that should be taken into consideration. The appreciation for multiple factors and their impact on health outcomes has benefitted his work on risk assessment projects with the EPA.
Now that he has left academia, Arzuaga says that life is a little different. At the EPA, Arzuaga works on chemical assessments and preparation of toxicological reviews for the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) at the EPA. IRIS is EPA's electronic database containing information on human health effects that may result from exposure to various substances in the environment. The peer-reviewed information in IRIS is often used in combination with exposure information in a Superfund risk assessment to characterize the public health risks at hazardous waste sites. These risk characterizations form the basis of risk-based decision making, regulatory activities, and other risk management decisions designed to assess and protect public health. It is sometimes referred to as EPA's "gold standard" for toxicity information and is used world wide.
While not directly related to his academic work, he uses his knowledge of emerging technologies to help understand the mechanisms or modes of action by which exposure can lead to disease. "I now consider myself a consumer of the research data generated by research and academic institutions like the ones that form part of the SRP," he says.
University of Kentucky Ph.D. student Maggie Murphy is a Lexington native who is committed to improving our nation’s health through novel research into nutrition and toxicology.
Several mentors inspired Maggie to pursue a career in nutrition. She credits teachers in high school with igniting a love of science within her, as well as her father who showed her the importance and benefits of good health. He challenged Maggie to take up running at the age of 12, and she grew to love the sport. Maggie has been an avid runner since then, and competes in several road races each year.
Maggie attended the University of Florida, where she completed a B.S. in Nutrition. From there, she returned home to Lexington to complete a Master of Science and Dietetic Internship in order to pursue a career of a Registered Dietician. During her internship, Maggie worked with many patients suffering from diabetes mellitus (Type 2 diabetes) and heart disease. She says, "while it was satisfying to encourage these patients to adopt a healthy lifestyle, I discovered a deeper desire to research the underlying causes of these diseases at the molecular level."
While pursuing her Master’s degree, Maggie also met Dr. Bernhard Hennig. She worked as his teaching assistant, and found an interest in the field of cardiovascular research. Dr. Hennig offered her a position in his lab while she pursues a doctoral degree. She now studies the molecular mechanisms of PCB-induced toxicity in an attempt to identify novel targets that protect against chemical insult, such as green tea or engaging in lifestyle modifications such as exercise.
Recently, Maggie won the Charles River Best Poster Presentation Award for a Ph.D. student at the Ohio Valley Society of Toxicology meeting in September for her poster "Exercise decreases polychlorinated biphenyl-induced cardiovascular toxicity in mice."
Zuzana Majkova, Ph.D.
Originally from the Czech Republic, Zuzana came to the University of Kentucky in 2003 where she studied under Bernhard Hennig, Ph.D. She is now a post-doctoral trainee in the lab of Bruce Hammock, Ph.D., in the Superfund Research Program at UC-Davis, where she has just completed her first year of research.
Zuzana calls her career choice "straightforward". Her father is a science teacher and her mother works in plant protection, so she spent a lot of time outdoors while growing up. When she started her undergraduate studies, she learned of a new program in Ecotoxicology at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.
The Ecotoxicology program was progressive and diverse. Zuzana explains: "During communism, any information about environmental contamination was non-existent. After the Velvet Revolution in '89, there was a lot of interest in assessment of existing contamination and developing new legislature that would prevent exposures in the future. Our department was formed as a Research Centre for Toxic Compounds in the Environment (RECETOX)." According to Zuzana, it was "people with different background from all over the country who specialized in various aspects of environmental sciences, such as environmental analytical chemistry, biostatistics, assessment of biodiversity, various ecotoxicological tests, and human risk assessment."
Zuzana's master's thesis advisor, Miroslav Machala, Ph.D., knew Hennig from previous collaborations. He suggested that she explore the possibility of working in his lab after her graduation. She moved from the Czech Republic to Lexington, Kentucky, and after a year as a technician, joined the Toxicology program to pursue a doctoral degree.
In Hammock's lab, Zuzana is working to develop novel analytical methods to measure levels of environmental pollutants. Recently, Zuzana and the other researchers in Dr. Hammock's lab have focused on immunoassays based on camelid "nanobodies". These are small and very stable antibody fragments that can be expressed recombinantly and therefore result in more robust and cost-effective assays. Zuzana is working on assay for triclocarban (TCC), a high production volume component of personal care products and an endocrine disruptor. We are combining anti-TCC nanobodies with nanoparticles containing fluorescent lanthanide complexes to make a rapid lateral flow immunoassay.
Sarah Allan is wasting no time putting her SRP doctoral training to use in studying communities and environments impacted by toxic chemicals. She is a student in Kim Anderson's Food Safety and Environmental Stewardship Laboratory in the Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology at Oregon State University.
Sarah boasts a life-long interest in science, cultivated in part and enthusiastically supported by her parents, both high school science teachers. Initially her interest derived from a fascination with the natural world and a love of the outdoors, which later translated into a passion for protecting and preserving the ecosystems that sustain life. She studied, then later worked as a marine biologist but was drawn to environmental toxicology because of "widespread and inescapable impacts that poisoning our environment has on ecosystem and human health." Initially, Sarah found it daunting to move from observing macrofauna into analytic chemistry, but she thinks putting the chemistry and ecology/biology pieces together is important and having a background that spans multiple disciplines is valuable.
Sarah's research is made up of two interconnected components. First, she monitors organic contaminants, primarily polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), in aquatic systems using passive sampling devices (PSDs). The then uses the results of her monitoring to assess the toxicity of complex mixtures. Specifically, she uses extracts from PSDs in established toxicity models, such as the embryonic zebrafish developmental toxicity model. She is able to monitor spatial and short- and long-term temporal trends in contamination from multiple sources and tie them to toxicological responses in the fish.
This work is taking her to sites near and far. With her lab mates, Sarah monitors PAHs in both the Portland Harbor Superfund Megasite and the Gulf of Mexico, in response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. An Alaska native, Sarah recalls the impact of the Exxon Valdez spill on local communities. "The devastation was widespread and long term and yet, much like in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill, public opinion on how to respond and move forward with natural resource extraction and use in a responsible way was very divided." She feels gratified to be able to respond to the oil spill and apply her skills in a way that has the potential to have a positive impact on the outcome of a disaster that has effected many people and ecosystems. To date, she has made five trips to the Gulf Coast, and is learning about the Gulf in ways she never imagined-she is nearly resigned to the heat and humidity of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
When she finishes her Ph.D., Sarah says she is very interested in working somewhere at the junction of science and policy, perhaps with an assessment and regulatory agency or NGO. If these plans don't materialize, Sarah says she would like to spend some time as a "mountaineering guide and professional ski bum."
Dan Brown wants to understand how early-life exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) affects the development of fish. As a third year doctoral student at Duke University, under the guidance of Richard Di Giulio, Ph.D, Brown is investigating how some fish, which live on a Superfund site, have developed a resistance to the toxicant. While acute exposures have been well-studied, little is known about the subtle effects of chronic, low-level exposures.
He will use his results to study killifish living in the Elizabeth River, which runs through the Atlantic Wood Industries Superfund site and investigate the costs and benefits of the fishes’ adaptation to living in a PAH-contaminated environment. Remarkably, some of the fish in the river have developed a resistance to the acute effects of PAH exposure. Brown’s research is unique in that it introduces both behavioral and performance-based assays to better track the emergence of effects following early life exposure.
Brown received a bachelor's degree in biology from Elon University in 2009. He was inspired by his undergraduate mentor to pursue a doctorate degree. After he graduates, Brown is interested in a post-doctoral position within government or academia. Eventually he would like to teach at a small liberal arts college to encourage undergraduate research and interest in the environmental sciences.
When he’s not in the lab, Brown serves as the Community Outreach Chair on the University's Graduate and Professional Student Council (GPSC). He is also volunteering as one of the student advisors for the SRP Annual Meeting, which will be held in Raleigh, N.C., in October 2012. Finally, Brown enjoys intramural sports, specifically basketball, soccer, and volleyball.
Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) Superfund Research Program (SRP) postdoctoral researcher Seunggeun Lee, Ph.D., will soon be an established independent researcher, after receiving an NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00).
Lee currently works with David Christiani, Ph.D., who leads an HSPH SRP project to analyze genome-wide association data to find genetic variants that interact with neurotoxic metals such as lead, arsenic, and manganese. Identifying these variants will increase understanding of neurotoxic metal effects on biological processes, and thus help find better ways to protect children from toxic metals.
In June 2012, Lee received a K99/R00 Award from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). In his grant, he proposes to develop computational methods to analyze rare variants in sequencing data. These statistical methods for genetic data analysis will support research to find genetic basis of complex diseases.
“The Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) is a truly remarkable technology and is revolutionizing the landscape of medical and human genetics,” said Lee. “However, NGS produces enormous sizes of data, and the main challenge is to find genetic variants associated with complex diseases in such large datasets.” Lee proposes to use kernel regression approach for rare variants analysis, and will extend this framework for more complex study designs.
“SRP has provided me a great opportunity to analyze real data, and has motivated me to develop novel methods to unravel genetic effects and gene-by-environment interaction effects on complex traits,” said Lee. “These experiences helped me prepare to write my own grant.”
A fifth-year student in the Pathology Graduate Program at Brown University, Sara. Pacheco is a student leader with growing expertise in bioinformatics. Working in Brown’s Superfund Research Program, Pacheco aims to identify sperm biomarkers of environmental chemical exposure, with the ultimate goal of improving diagnosis and management of male infertility.
In both human sperm and sperm from rat models exposed to Superfund chemicals, Pacheco performs genome-wide analyses to identify changes in sperm that are associated with low sperm motility. In 2011, she demonstrated her promise as a scientist with publication of a significant paper describing her work in the journal PLoS One.
Pacheco has an intense interest in bioinformatics and working with large datasets. In her work, she employs multiple array techniques for high-throughput screening of her samples, including DNA methylation arrays, messenger RNA arrays, and microRNA arrays.
Pacheco has mentored numerous students in the Pathobiology Graduate Program and has sought leadership positions in national societies. She is the student representative to the Council for the American Society of Andrology and participates regularly in their Women in Science events.
Superfund Research Program
For University of Arizona doctoral student Corin Hammond, environmental advocacy is in the blood. Corin grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, a town she describes as "particularly environmentally aware". She found that once she left home, she came to appreciate the community mentality that is present in Corvallis and how unique it is.
Corin attended Louisiana State University, where she became interested in chemistry and the ability humans have to affect our world. She graduated with her bachelor's degree in 2007 with Upper Division Honors. From there, Corin moved to the University of Arizona where she earned her masters' degree in inorganic chemistry.
In January 2010, Corin joined the University of Arizona SRP so she could work with Dr. Jon Chorover. She now uses her knowledge of basic science to reduce the transport of contaminants such as arsenic from mine tailings in the environment. Corin is conducting research at the Iron King Mine-Humboldt Smelter Superfund Site, which was added to the National Priorities List in 2008. She is helping to develop a cost-effective phytostabilization strategy for the iron king site. Her research group's goal is to reduce wind and water erosion of the tailings pile, thereby reducing human exposure to the metals in the tailings. This is difficult because the environment is very inhospitable to plants. Highly acidic, low organic material and high amounts of metals make it difficult for plants to grow. Corin and her fellow research help the plants by adding nutrients to the soil and irrigating it.
Corin is planning to finish her degree in December 2014.
Katryn Eske, a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY, says that she’s always had an interest in environmentally induced disease. When she was in elementary school, Katryn observed how man-made chemicals can affect human health. She also saw the contributions good nutrition made in ameliorating the condition and assisting in the recovery of her family member. These experiences cultivated an early interest in the role nutrition could play in treating environmentally induced disease.
Her interest in science led her to pursue a B.S. of Biochemistry at Messiah College in Grantham, PA, a program that integrated elements of nutrition into the core curriculum. In addition, the values emphasized at Messiah supported her growing interest in environmental justice.
Following the completion of her undergraduate education, Katryn took a break from academic study and developed her skills as a scientist while working as a technician on a pharmacogenomics project at the Medical College of Wisconsin. She then joined the laboratory of Dr. Bernhard Hennig as a Ph.D. student in the Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences at the University of Kentucky. As part of Dr. Hennig’s lab, she is excited to study the use of omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention of polychlorinated biphenyl- induced cardiovascular disease.
After she completes her Ph.D., Katryn would like to continue to focus on prevention of environmentally induced diseases, which may include further education in public health.
Alison Cohen is committed to reducing both the environmental injustices and educational inequalities experienced by those living in disadvantaged urban communities. The Superfund Research Program at Brown University is pleased to have provided her with ample opportunity to get started.
During her career at Brown, the SRP Community Outreach Core gave Ms. Cohen a chance to:
Help the 100 households of Tiverton, RI, whose homes were built on fill contaminated with cyanide, lead, arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons win a law suit against the corporation that devalued and contaminated their property.
Assist in passing a bill that raised the fine for firms in violation of the RI Department of Environmental Management rules from $1,000 to $25,000 per day.
Develop a middle school curriculum called Superfund Environmental Justice Education Discovery Seminar and teach it to 75 students over 18 months.
Develop a high school and adult curriculum called Community Environmental College and pilot it.
Become the youngest member of the National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures Project, a national dialogue convened by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.
Ms. Cohen is presently in Brussels on a Fulbright Scholarship to examine the European Union's chemical regulation and understand how policymakers use environmental health science to inform their efforts. She plans on continuing in community-based environmental epidemiology at University of California-Berkeley's School of Public Health.
Elizabeth Hoover received the 2008 Switzer Fellowship Award for her exemplary leadership and supportive work related to environmental justice issues of Native American communities. One prominent contribution made by Elizabeth was her efforts to enhance community involvement with regard to environmental contamination. For her research, Elizabeth used the health research produced five to ten years ago by SUNY [Albany] researchers on the Akwesasne community. She related the health research to the residents’ perceptions of the results, and how it caused people to change their perceptions of the reservation environment, in general, and caused lifestyle changes, e.g., a cessation of gardening and fish consumption.
Since 1987, the Switzer Environmental Fellowship Program Award is given to California and New England graduate students who possess a strong commitment to solve problems that result in positive environmental change. Elizabeth’s work with Brown University’s Superfund Research Program (SRP) Community Outreach Core (COC) " University-Community Partnerships to Address Local Toxic Contamination " aims to improve environmental quality, while positively impacting Native American communities. Recipients of the Switzer Award aim to improve environmental quality, while demonstrating leadership.
Currently, Elizabeth is a Ph.D. candidate at Brown University studying Anthropology with a focus on environmental justice and health in Native American communities. For the last three years, Elizabeth has been an active research assistant to the SRP’s COC led by Dr. Phil Brown. Through her graduate research, COC involvement, and her personal ties (she is of Mohawk descent), Elizabeth’s interests, along with Dr. Brown’s interdisciplinary work, led to her involvement with the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island (EJLRI) . Her research experience continues to give her a substantial insight into environmental justice issues in Native and rural American communities, which contribute to her understanding of urban issues.
Elizabeth’s interest in environmentally contaminated communities allowed her to become involved in a mix of state and federal agencies, such as the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) , the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) , and local community groups, such as the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council (WRWC) and the Environmental Neighborhood Awareness Committee of Tiverton [Rhode Island] (ENACT). As a result of her vast interests and agency involvement, Elizabeth was inducted into the 2008 Environmental Leadership Program’s (ELP) New England Fellowship, a year-long program that offers the environmental field’s ‘most-promising emerging practitioners’ to become involved in “unique networking opportunities, leadership and skills training, support, and time for personal and professional reflection.”
Both the Switzer and ELP Fellowships give Elizabeth the opportunity to collaborate with other regional environmentalists. The ELP Fellowship continues to connect her with Fellows who have similar and/or overlapping interests. In the fall, Elizabeth will continue her research with the Akwesasne.
With an intended graduation date of May 2009, Elizabeth plans to apply for Postdocs and teaching jobs. Her goal: “to educate students and community leaders on the importance of community involvement in environmental clean-up and restoration, and keep academic work relevant to the people on which it is often based.”
Brad is very active in the University of Kentucky program; he recently served as the Student Ambassador for the 2011 SRP Annual Meeting in Lexington, KY. Brad is especially interested in applied sciences and science policy, and he sees environmental science as a practical place to focus his attention. According to him, scientific advances that tackle environmental issues can be directly applied to communities that can benefit from the research.
A native of Chillicothe, OH, Brad graduated cum laude from Asbury University with a degree in Biochemistry. After a brief stint as a research technician working in industry, he continued on to the University of Kentucky, where he is researching biomaterials chemistry under the guidance of Drs. Leonidas Bachas and Bernhard Hennig. Brad spends a lot of his time finding ways to improve his community. These activities range far and wide, from coordinating renovation projects for the Salvation Army to mentoring students of any age to providing humanitarian aid in Swaziland.
He says that his time volunteering in Africa strengthened his commitment to work in the environmental sciences because he lived in a community where water was unsafe to drink and a prime factor in child mortality rates. While there, he directed the construction of an underground spring water collection system to supply the city with a reliable source of drinking water. Brad says that this directly affected his research focus. "Since returning to grad school, my research focus has evolved from looking at the toxicological implications of organic pollutants and nanomaterials to the creation of novel, yet simple, systems that use nanomaterials for removal of contaminants in water supplies."
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.
Kathleen McCarty, Ph.D.
Dr. Kathleen M. McCarty, an SRP trainee from 2002-2005, is an environmental/molecular epidemiologist at Yale University. She received her Doctor of Science degree (ScD) from the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Her dissertation research, a component of Dr. David C. Christiani's SRP-funded research project, "Arsenic and Health in Taiwan and Bangladesh", focused on whether environmental co-exposures and host factors affected arsenic biomarker response and/or susceptibility to arsenic-related skin lesions in Bangladesh. This work resulted in five peer-reviewed first author publications.
Upon completion of her graduate studies, Dr. McCarty conducted postdoctoral research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Department of Epidemiology, under the mentorship of Dr. Marilie D. Gammon. While at UNC, Dr. McCarty researched environmental and genetic factors that influence biomarker response and susceptibility to breast cancer. Her research used data from the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project , which helped her investigate how polymorphisms in metabolic pathways modified the association between polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon(PAH) exposure and breast cancer risk, as well as PAH-DNA adduct biomarker response.
Dr. McCarty credits SRP for her many collaborative research opportunities. In 2004, she received an award to present her research to international colleagues at the Central & Eastern European Conference on Health and the Environment (CEECHE) in Prague, a meeting co-sponsored by the SRP. The meeting helped Dr. McCarty establish professional relationships with SRP students and investigators, such as Dr. Eugen Gurzau (Babes Bolyaii University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania). The pair continues collaborative efforts as they study gene-environment interactions related to arsenic exposure and skin cancer with Dr. Michael Snyder (Yale Graduate School of Arts & Sciences).
In 2006, Dr. McCarty joined the faculty of Yale with a joint appointment in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and the School of Medicine, Division of Environmental Health Sciences. As an assistant professor at Yale, Dr. McCarty continues to work with Dr. Gammon, investigating gene polymorphisms in oxidative stress pathways, PAH-DNA adducts, and breast cancer risk, in addition to building new research collaborations and relationships.
The SRP-sponsored training provided Dr. McCarty with an interdisciplinary education and research foundation that supports her career in environmental health sciences. She is appreciative of her strong scientific training, and acknowledges the SBRP program for the expanded collegial network it has provided, such networking and mentoring is invaluable for a new investigator. In that spirit, Dr. McCarty participated as a panelist at the 20th Anniversary Superfund Basic Research and Training Program Conference to discuss career paths with current SBRP students and postdoctoral trainees. Dr. McCarty also served as the USA Co-Chair for the organizing committee for the third CEECHE Conference in Romania, which was held in October 2008.
In 2009, Dr. McCarty was named Science Communication Fellow by Environmental Health Sciences, a non-profit group dedicated to science communication. She will use this opportunity to identify environmental health research results of interest to the general public and she will work to make them easily understood by those without scientific training in their background.
When it comes to telling fellow students "How I Spent My Summer," Sinnott-Armstrong, above, is sure to have one of the most interesting stories around. (Photo courtesy of Dartmouth College)
Nick Sinnott-Armstrong, a high-school student who completed a summer research project in the Dartmouth College Superfund Research Program (SRP), took first prize for his work in a programming contest at the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference (GECCO), held July 8–12 in Montreal.
Sinnott-Armstrong worked with Casey Green and Jason Moore, Ph.D., of the NIEHS-supported Integrative Biology Core (IBC) at Dartmouth to analyze and present epidemiological data using computer technology normally found in 3-D video games. He is the first author on a newly published paper reporting on the application in health research.
An advanced Graphical Processing Unit, or GPU, runs an adaptation of another Dartmouth innovation — a machine learning algorithm called Multifactor Dimensionality Reduction (MDR) . MDR was built to detect and characterize interactions among various attributes to determine predictors of a particular outcome. It has been practically applied to the analysis of gene-environment interactions in genome-wide association studies.
The technology developed by the Core directly supports research efforts within the Dartmouth SRP. "The... GPU... reduces computational time by nearly 150-fold, compared to traditional computational methods," said Moore