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Extramural Update

Air pollution also affects visibility in Mexico City.
Air pollution also affects visibility in Mexico City. (Photo courtesy of Jerry Phelps)

Workshops on Global Variability in Response to Air Pollution

On September 4, 2007, NIEHS extramural and intramural staff met with twelve international air pollution research experts in Mexico City to discuss the breadth and depth of different air pollution studies around the world, and to assess the feasibility of comparing and pooling data to better understand the diverse clinical responses and genetic susceptibility to exposure to air pollution across different populations.

Building on the discussion at that meeting, NIEHS has scheduled a follow-up workshop June 16-17, 2008, titled "Genetic Susceptibility to Air Pollution Outcomes: Approaches to Translation of Cardiopulmonary Animal Disease Models." The workshop will be held at NIEHS in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

The goals of the upcoming workshop are to foster collaborations between human disease and mouse model researchers and identify appropriate strategies and approaches for combining research efforts in human population and animal studies to further advance the understanding of the underlying biological pathways.

The 2007 meeting was held in conjunction with the International Society of Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE). Gwen Collman, Ph.D., chief of the NIEHS Susceptibility and Population Health Branch in the Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT), chaired the meeting.

Workshop participants included Kimberly Gray, Ph.D., Kimberly McAllister, Ph.D., Daniel Shaughnessy, Ph.D., and Jerry Phelps of DERT and Stephanie London, M.D., and Steve Kleeberger, Ph.D., of the Division of Intramural Research. The invited attendees were Kathleen Belanger, Ph.D., Yale University; David Christiani. M.D., and Douglas Dockery, Sc.D., Harvard University; Frank Gilliland, Ph.D., University of Southern California; Nelson Gouveia, Ph.D., University of Sao Paulo; Joel Kaufman, M.D., University of Washington; Nino Kuenzli, M.D., Ph.D., Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology; Sumi Mehta, Ph.D., Health Effects Institute; Annette Peters, M.D., GSF-Institute for Epidemiology; Isabelle Romieu, M.D., Sc.D., National Institute of Public Health, Mexico; and Chit-Ming Wong, Ph.D., University of Hong Kong.

The working group included experts in the field of the health effects of air pollution. Collman asked the group to assist NIEHS staff in gauging the status of the science and the impact of genetics on responses to air pollution.

Discussion topics included:

  • Differences in susceptibility and response endpoints of interest.
  • The possibility of comparing and combining data from international studies.
  • How current studies are framing questions to explain the role of genetic factors in response to AP.
  • Consortia Models - How can researchers work together to maximize resources?
  • Standardization - Are measures of air pollution standardized? Do global standardized clinical phenotypes exist?
  • Outcomes - Is it desirable and feasible to add genetic analyses to existing exposure studies and vice versa, and, if so, what is the best approach?

Attendees offered a series of recommendations to the NIEHS staff including mechanisms to improve statistical methodologies and training opportunities. There was group consensus that bringing the "mouse community" and epidemiologists together in a meeting would be beneficial in stimulating translation of basic studies to epidemiology especially for gene discovery and translation. Panelists agreed that successful labs and groups have regular interactions with other groups across disciplines. To allow good animal models to have potential to be translated into human studies, the panelists agreed that a meeting between mouse geneticists and epidemiologists, as well as other researchers using key model organisms such as C. elegans would be useful.

There was general discussion and consensus that replication of results is very important and could benefit from a consortium of population studies. There was also discussion of challenge studies and developing methods such that challenge studies can be incorporated into larger epidemiology studies.

In closing the meeting, Collman observed that NIEHS might want to have additional meetings of experts to develop specific action plans, one of several items that are sure to be on the agenda at the June meeting. That meeting will address a specific need identified at the ISEE workshop to bring together human geneticists and epidemiologists with investigators focusing on a variety of animal disease models to understand air pollution-induced respiratory and cardiovascular outcomes.

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