Superfund Research Program
PBC Meeting Strengthens International Environmental Health Network
NIEHS staff and grantees shared their expertise and discussed ways to address pressing environmental health issues at the Pacific Basin Consortium (PBC) conference, September 15 -19 in Kyoto, Japan.
The conference was sponsored in part by the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP). Organizers invited scientists, engineers, policy-makers, industry representatives, and government officials to present research and discuss solutions to problems of environmental contamination. The meeting centered around solutions to reduce early-life exposures to contaminants in the Pacific Basin region and around the world.
In a plenary session focused on pollution and health, SRP Director William Suk, Ph.D., emphasized the importance of scientific leadership initiatives to lay out priorities and expand the role of prevention and intervention activities. He also described public-private partnership opportunities in environmental health research that leverage resources and combine strengths.
SRP Health Scientist Administrator Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., presented and chaired a symposium focused on data sharing, integrating, and modeling for environmental health information and decision making. The symposium outlined information systems and analytical and statistical approaches that provide a foundation for data integration across studies and data types to inform risk assessment.
Researchers also discussed available data from birth cohorts in the Asia-Pacific region that link early-life exposures and health effects later in life, and how to reuse and integrate data from established cohorts to make new connections.
In a symposium on disaster response research, NIEHS staff scientist Richard Kwok, Ph.D., shared his experiences with the GuLF STUDY, which focuses on the potential health effects of clean-up workers, volunteers, and community members from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Other speakers highlighted public health responses to disasters in Japan, Canada, Thailand, and Indonesia, providing unique local perspectives as well as lessons learned that may be applicable to many of the global participants.
The meeting provided an opportunity for trainees to discuss their research with experts from around the world during a dedicated student and faculty networking session and a poster session. SRP Health Specialist Brittany Trottier also co-chaired a student presentation session, where trainees presented their research, answered questions, and heard feedback from faculty.
Supplements Expand SRP's Capacity for Data Sharing
The Superfund Research Program (SRP) awarded administrative supplements to its Multiproject Center (P42) and Individual Research (R01) grantees to expand data integration, interoperability, and reuse. The SRP encourages data sharing among its grantees to accelerate new discoveries, stimulate new collaborations, and increase scientific transparency and rigor.
Researchers at SRP Centers study across a variety of disciplines and produce large amounts of data on biological responses, exposures, and environmental technologies. As such, data generated from these Centers are diverse and include multi-omics and imaging to geoscience and exposure distribution data. The supplements aim to integrate data across these biomedical and environmental science and engineering fields, one of the biggest challenges in SRP data sharing. The supplements will also help each Center improve data management by making previously and newly produced datasets more accessible, interoperable, and reusable to SRP researchers.
Use Cases are at the core of these supplements, wherein awardees have combined at least two distinct datasets to help address a real-world, science-driven research question. The Use Case advances the research goals of each of the collaborators while also facilitating the interoperability and reuse of SRP data.
Each Use Case team will also take part in regular discussions with other teams to leverage best practices and recommendations to reach their goals. These best practices for data interoperability and reuse of SRP datasets will be shared at an in-person meeting at the end of the supplement and with the broader environmental science community.
By encouraging data reuse to accelerate the pace of research, these supplemental grants further the SRP's goal of breaking the link between chemical exposure and disease. The funding also addresses the second theme of the NIEHS's Strategic Plan: promoting research translation by using data to enhance knowledge and inspire action.
Blocking Mosquitoes with a Graphene Shield
An innovative graphene-based film helps shield people from disease-carrying mosquitoes, according to a new study. The research, conducted by the Brown University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center, was published August 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“These findings could lead to new protective methods against mosquitoes, without the environmental or human health effects of other chemical-based repellants,” said Heather Henry, Ph.D., a health scientist administrator with the NIEHS SRP.
The study, led by Brown SRP Center Director Robert Hurt, Ph.D., shows that graphene, a tight, honeycomb lattice of carbon, could be an alternative to chemicals now used in mosquito repellants and protective clothing.
Through an SRP research project, Hurt fabricates and tests high-performance, graphene-based environmental barriers to prevent the release and transport of vapor toxicants. Several years ago, he began devising suits with graphene to protect workers against hazardous chemicals at environmental cleanup sites. Hurt and his team also started looking into other applications for the effective barrier.
In the new study, researchers found dry graphene film seemed to interfere with mosquitoes’ ability to sense skin and sweat because they did not land and try to bite. A closer look at videos taken of the mosquitoes in action revealed that the insects landed much less frequently on graphene than on bare skin. The graphene film also provided a strong barrier that mosquitoes could not bite through, although when wet with sweat, mosquitoes landed on skin.
NIEHS SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., was pleased to see that this new use for graphene was developed as an offshoot of his program’s work. “SRP is a problem-solving program,” said Suk. “This is a significant public health problem that is in need of a solution."
To read more about this work, see the September 2019 issue of the NIEHS Environmental Factor.