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Your Environment. Your Health.

2017 News

Superfund Research Program

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November 07, 2017 New

TAMU SRP Center Celebrates Launch

On Oct. 17, scientists, students, and faculty came together to celebrate the launch of the new Texas A&M University (TAMU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center. Remarks were delivered by SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., TAMU President Michael Young, J.D., and other key officials and project leaders.

The TAMU SRP Center researchers are developing tools to address exposure to mixtures during environmental, emergency-related contamination events, using the Houston area as a model. Center projects focus on:

  • Understanding how people are exposed to chemicals during environmental emergencies
  • Developing remediation technologies to reduce the public’s exposure to chemicals
  • Characterizing differences between individuals resulting from exposure to chemical mixtures
  • Developing assays to identify the presence and health risks of endocrine-disrupting chemicals

Funded just weeks before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, TAMU researchers were already on the ground and ready to respond. Jennifer Horney, Ph.D., leader of the TAMU SRP Community Engagement Core, recently authored an article that outlined many of the efforts underway at TAMU in response to the hurricane.

TAMU SRP Center
Young addresses the audience at the TAMU SRP launch event. Other speakers at the event, pictured in the front row from left to right, included Eleanor Green, Ph.D., dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science; Chancellor John Sharp; Karen Butler-Purry, Ph.D., interim vice president for research; Glen Laine, Ph.D., former vice president for research; Center Director Ivan Rusyn, Ph.D.; and Anthony Knap, Ph.D., Project 1 leader. Also pictured are Michael Mancini, Ph.D., Project 4 leader, and Horney.
(Photo courtesy of the TAMU SRP Center)

November 03, 2017 New

Lancet Report Links Pollution to Nine Million Deaths in 2015

Exposure to polluted air, water, and soil caused nine million premature deaths in 2015, according to a recent report published in The Lancet. SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., co-authored the report as part of the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health.

Pollution infographic

The Lancet Commission released an infographic along with the report that outlined the findings. For a full size version of the infographic, visit the Lancet website. (Image from the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution)

Through analyses of existing and emerging data, the Lancet Commission report lays out how pollution contributes to the global burden of disease. It also uncovers the economic costs of pollution to low- and middle-income countries, and compares the cost of inaction to the cost of available solutions.

The report draws upon previous studies to show how pollution is linked to various causes of death, including cancer, lung disease, and heart disease. They estimated that nine million premature deaths in 2015 can be attributed to pollution. These add up to 16 percent of all deaths worldwide, killing three times more people than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. According to these findings, pollution is also responsible for 15 times more deaths than wars and all other forms of violence.

While the report notes that 92 percent of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries, it also adds that no country is unaffected. According to their findings, children face the highest risks because prenatal and early-life exposure to chemicals can result in lifelong disease, disability, premature death, as well as reduced learning and earning potential.

"Pollution in rapidly developing countries is just getting worse and worse and worse. And it isn't getting the attention it deserves," says Philip Landrigan, M.D., pediatrician and professor of environmental medicine and global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He is the lead author of the report along with Richard Fuller, president of Pure Earth, which works to clean up pollution in poor countries.

October 30, 2017 New

SRP Brings Students to Plant-Based Technologies Conference

Students supported by the Superfund Research Program (SRP) took part in the 2017 International Phytotechnologies Conference, September 25-29 in Montreal, Canada. Phytotechnologies refer to plant-based methods to clean water, soil, air, and provide ecosystem services, including creating energy from biomass.

First initiated for the 2009 conference, the Phytoscholars grant program provides funding for United States-based graduate students and post-doctoral associates to attend and participate at the international meeting.

Phytoscholars presented posters on their research, learned more about current research advances in the field of phytotechnologies, and met with scientists and engineers from all over the world. The conference focused on strategic use of plants and their associated microorganisms as sustainable solutions to address environmental issues.

Current and former SRP grantees also attended the meeting and shared recent developments in plant-based technologies to address environmental contamination. Sharon Doty, Ph.D., a partner on an SRP small business grant and former University of Washington SRP Center researcher, presented work on enhancing degradation of trichloroethylene on a Superfund site using microbes to boost poplar tree phytoremediation. Former SRP grantees Joel Burken, Ph.D., and Lee Newman, Ph.D., also presented on their phytoremediation work and chaired conference sessions.

2017 phytoscholars
From left, Jason White, Ph.D., and Burken from the IPS International Organizing and Scientific Committee with the 2017 phytoscholars.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

October 30, 2017 New

SRP in the Spotlight at Fall Duke Symposium

Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees and staff gathered on September 22 in Durham, North Carolina for the Duke University Program in Environmental Health Fall Symposium. The symposium, which provided an overview of the new Duke University SRP Center, included historical and research highlights from Duke SRP Center project leaders and trainees.

In the keystone lecture, SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., outlined the history of the SRP and important milestones in its 30-year history. This included new types of grants, trainee awards, and communication and engagement activities. He further recalled important conferences hosted by the SRP over the years that helped shape the focus of environmental health research. Suk closed by describing current initiatives and priorities moving forward, such as enhancing solutions through data integration, documenting economic and public health successes of the program, and enhancing prevention and intervention activities.

Duke SRP Center Director Rich Di Giulio, Ph.D., presented history and highlights of the Duke SRP Center, which was followed by 7 minute speed talks by each of the Duke SRP Center projects and cores. The speed talks featured recent findings as well as goals for the new SRP grant cycle.

In the afternoon session, six Duke SRP trainees shared their research findings. The symposium closed with a discussion about ways to promote collaborations between the projects and cores and potential opportunities to advance Duke SRP research.

Symposium participants
Symposium participants included Duke SRP project leaders, trainees, and staff. SRP Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., left, and Suk were also in attendance.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

October 11, 2017

SRP Centers Respond to Hurricane Harvey

Only days after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas on Aug. 25, researchers from Superfund Research Program (SRP) Centers at Texas A&M University and Oregon State University (OSU) began working to better understand the potential environmental hazards after the disaster.

Baseline Data Just in Time

Jennifer Horney and students

Horney is working with students to conduct environmental sampling over the next several weeks.
(Photo courtesy of Texas A&M)

In a case of remarkable timing, Texas A&M became home to a new SRP Center in August. At the Center, researchers are developing tools to address exposure to mixtures during environmental, emergency-related contamination events, with a focus on the Houston area.

Before the hurricane hit, Texas A&M researchers, led by Jennifer Horney, Ph.D., collaborated with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services to take baseline soil and water samples in Manchester, a neighborhood in Houston surrounded by refineries, freeways, a rail yard, and water treatment facilities.

Funding for the Texas A&M SRP Center began Sept. 1, and according to Horney, who is the head of the Center’s Community Engagement Core, researchers were out in the field the same day. They began collecting soil, mud, and water samples in the Manchester community to look for contamination as a result of flooding. They are testing for lead, arsenic, and other potentially dangerous chemicals. Samples will be analyzed at Texas A&M, and results will be shared with local and state partners. Post-disaster data also will be compared to data they collected in Manchester before Harvey hit.

"By comparing to baseline, we’ll be able to see how Harvey influenced contaminant levels," Horney said. Exposure data will help researchers better understand health risks in Manchester and elsewhere.

Wristbands Will Assess Exposure

Four trainees in a lab

OSU SRP Center trainees prepare several hundred wristbands for a Sept. 20 deployment.
(Photo courtesy of the OSU SRP Center)

A different sort of exposure study was launched in the Houston neighborhood of Highlands by OSU SRP Center researchers led by Kim Anderson, Ph.D. Anderson and her team have developed silicone wristbands that collect chemicals to which wearers are exposed.

OSU SRP Center researchers prepared wristbands, and Baylor College of Medicine staff helped distribute them to participants who wore them for a week. The passive sampling wristband can detect over 1,500 different chemicals. OSU SRP Center researchers aim to use these data to better understand potential hazards resulting from the disaster.

October 10, 2017

SRP in the Spotlight at American Chemical Society Meeting

SRP Morning Symposium Participants at the ACS Fall 2017 Meeting

Morning symposium presenters included, from left: (top row) Dibakar Bhattacharyya, Ph.D.; Keri Hornbuckle, Ph.D.; Henry; Athena Nghiem; Benjamin Bostick, Ph.D.; Mike Unger, Ph.D.; (bottom row) James Minick, Ph.D.; Pennell; Upal Ghosh, Ph.D.; and Suk.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees from all over the country highlighted economic benefits of scientific research in a special symposium for American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting participants. They also discussed challenges in assessing these benefits. The symposium was part of the fall 2017 ACS meeting in Washington, D.C., August 20 - 24.

"We explored the global economic impact of interdisciplinary environmental health research using SRP as a case study," said SRP Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., who co-chaired the session with University of Kentucky SRP Center grantee Kelly Pennell, Ph.D. "We heard a lot about how interdisciplinary research has accelerated technologies from the lab into the field, saving time and money."

SRP Afternoon Symposium Participants at the ACS Fall 2017 Meeting

Afternoon symposium presenters included, from left: (top row) Roger Giese, Ph.D.; Neal Durant, Ph.D.; Frank Loeffler, Ph.D.; (bottom row) Alexis Carpenter, Ph.D.; Ljiljana Rajic, Ph.D.; and Pennell.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

Presentations and posters highlighted innovative and low-cost SRP-funded technologies to detect potentially harmful chemicals and reduce the amount and toxicity of contaminants in the environment. Now in its 30th year, SRP support for fundamental research has resulted in significant research breakthroughs, the establishment of international scientific networks for the application of novel findings, and real-world applications yielding significant market impact.

SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., introduced the symposium and described how SRP research has led to significant cost and time savings for site remediation and assessment. He also touched on the potential global economic impact, including reduced costs stemming from improved public health.

Recognizing Grantee Accomplishments

Kristen Prossner and Bill Suk

SRP grantee Kristen Prossner, left, from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, discusses her work with Suk. Her poster focused on the evaluation of a new technique to measure polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons at contaminated sediment sites.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

SRP grantees also participated in sessions throughout the ACS meeting, and some were recognized with ACS awards.

University of Pennsylvania SRP Center Director Ian Blair, Ph.D., won the 2017 Founders Award from the ACS Division of Chemical Toxicology for his outstanding contributions to the field. He received the award during a symposium in his honor on August 20.

Jay Gan, Ph.D., an SRP grantee at the University of California, Riverside, received a 2017 Fellow Award from the ACS AGRO division, which recognizes members for dedication and enthusiastic service to the division and to agrochemical science.

September 20, 2017

SRP-Funded Small Business Provides Cost-Effective Technology for Mercury Emissions

Flue gas stack testing

Real-time flue gas stack testing for mercury emissions is performed at the University of Wyoming Central Energy Plant (UWCEP). PCTech successfully conducted a beta test of X-FA at the UWCEP earlier this year.
(Photo courtesy of Kaspars Krutkramelis)

NIEHS Superfund Research Program small business grantee and Wyoming-based start-up Pollution Control Technologies (PCTech) has initiated field tests of its new X-FA system, a cost-effective tool to capture mercury emissions.

X-FA, which can pick up and retain mercury, is composed mainly of fly ash, a waste product at power plants that usually requires its own special management. Using an innovative method, PCTech deposits a thin coating of activator material around the recycled fly ash particles to create the X-FA sorbent that can chemically bind to mercury. The X-FA sorbent can be produced on-site and can capture large amounts of mercury relatively inexpensively. PCTech expects to commercialize X-FA in the near future, which could help utilities meet strict mercury emissions standards implemented to protect human health.

The team is testing X-FA at coal-fired power utilities, including the University of Wyoming Central Energy Plant and the Dakota Gasification Company. PCTech also has been working closely with Basin Electric to test X-FA technology.

Rodolfo Monterroso and Kaspars Krutkramelis
PCTech co-founders Rodolfo Monterroso, Ph.D., left, and Kaspars Krutkramelis, Ph.D., visit Dry Fork Station, one of the Basin Electric Power Cooperative's coal-fired power plants in Wyoming.
(Photo courtesy of Kaspars Krutkramelis)

September 01, 2017

SRP-Funded FACETS Program Prepares Undergraduates for Advanced Education

Thirteen undergraduate students recently participated in the eight-week Fostering Advancement and Careers through Enrichment Training in Science (FACETS) internship program at Harvard University. Funded in part through the Superfund Research Program (SRP) Occupational and Safety Training Education Program on Emerging Technologies at the Harvard School of Public Health, FACETS takes a holistic approach to cultivating the next generation of scientists.

Through the FACETS program, undergraduate students are exposed to a range of public health topics, including introductory coursework in epidemiology and biostatistics, lectures from diverse faculty at Harvard, and mentored research projects with faculty members in environmental health.

The dynamic FACETS summer internship program aims to increase the competitiveness of the participants in graduate school admissions. This year's FACETS cohort included three students from Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically black college in New Orleans.

Kensley Villavasso, Imani Reid, Mariah Tate
Pictured left to right, Kensley Villavasso, Imani Reid, and Mariah Tate traveled from Xavier University of Louisiana to attend the FACETS summer internship program at the Harvard School of Public Health.
(Photo courtesy of the Harvard School of Public Health)

August 31, 2017

SRP Small Business Featured at International Biotechnology Convention

David Battaglia speaking with a booth visitor

Battaglia, right, handed out information about Lynntech's SRP-funded project at its BIO Innovation Zone booth.
(Photo courtesy of David Battaglia)

A Superfund Research Program (SRP)-funded small business project led by David Battaglia, Ph.D., was selected to exhibit in the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) Innovation Zone, a part of the BIO International Convention held June 19 - 22 in San Diego. The annual convention attracts about 15,000 biotech leaders from 65 countries, covering a wide spectrum of life science innovations.

The BIO Innovation Zone is an exhibit space dedicated to showcasing National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grantees. Battaglia represented Lynntech, Inc., an SRP-funded SBIR grantee.

Lynntech researchers have developed methods to increase the longevity and durability of commercially available membranes used for water purification. They use nanoparticles to modify the surface of these membranes and enhance their performance over time. These improvements minimize membrane fouling, which occurs when bacteria, clays, and other particles are deposited on the membrane surface.

Reducing membrane fouling can reduce the need for water system maintenance and required materials, leading to an overall reduction in system costs. Lynntech's modification process is also universally transferable to all existing membrane water purification technologies in commercial and industrial wastewater systems.

"NIH strongly believes in supporting innovative and breakthrough life science technology development through the SBIR program. The BIO International Convention continues to be an ideal place to highlight our companies," said Matthew Portnoy, Ph.D., the NIH SBIR program coordinator. "The SBIR companies showcased in this year's Innovation Zone show some of the most promising technologies in our portfolio that we hope will achieve commercial success and significantly advance and improve human health."

August 25, 2017

Conference Helps Scientists Inform Policies Around Mercury Pollution

Celia Chen and Charles Driscoll

Chen, left, and Driscoll co-chaired the conference, which brought together scientists, engineers, policymakers, and nonprofit organizations.
(Photo courtesy of Laurie Rardin)

International experts on mercury met at the 13th International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant (ICMGP) July 16 - 21 in Providence, Rhode Island, to discuss scientific findings and potential measures to decrease human and wildlife exposure to mercury.

With the theme of integrating mercury research and policy in a changing world, the conference focused on ways to control new and existing mercury sources and to monitor the effectiveness of those controls. The Dartmouth College Superfund Research Program (Dartmouth SRP) was an ICMGP 2017 co-sponsor and the center's Research Translation Core (RTC) leader Celia Chen, Ph.D., co-chaired the meeting with Charles Driscoll, Ph.D., from Syracuse University.

"We have made considerable progress in mercury regulations to control the release of this toxic metal, and efforts are underway at the local level to remediate mercury-contaminated sites," said Driscoll. "At the same time, uncertainty remains over the levels of exposure linked to a range of effects of mercury on wildlife and human health."

Chen introduced the plenary speakers, including former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and co-presented the opening address with Driscoll. During the meeting, the Dartmouth SRP Center also promoted fact sheets, the Dartmouth SRP Mercury: From Source to Seafood video, and information on Dartmouth SRP research translation and community engagement efforts.

ICMGP Science Informs Policy Questions

The ICMGP meeting began with a day-long NIEHS-funded workshop, which brought together a group of 30 scientists and policymakers. The workshop focused on the development of four synthesis papers integrating science to inform policy questions; the papers will be published in a special section of the journal Ambio.

"By providing the opportunity for face-to-face communications between mercury science experts and national and international policymakers, this workshop encourages a dialogue to address the questions policymakers need scientific research to answer," said Chen.

Workshop Participants
The ICMGP workshop encouraged dialogue to address the questions and knowledge gaps policymakers need answered by scientific research. The workshop culminated with a full-group discussion on how to translate these synthesis papers to better inform mercury policy.
(Photo courtesy of Laurie Rardin)

August 09, 2017

Tabletop Water Pitcher Filter Can Effectively Remove Arsenic from Drinking Water

Glass of water
Researchers tested the effectiveness of readily available tabletop water filters at removing arsenic from drinking water.

An inexpensive tabletop water pitcher can be used to remove arsenic from drinking water, according to a recent Dartmouth College SRP Center study. The research team, led by Dartmouth SRP Center Director Bruce Stanton, Ph.D., looked at five common in-home pitcher filters, ranging in price from $20 to $35 for the pitcher and $10 to $15 for replacement filters, and compared their effectiveness at removing arsenic from water.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research, reports that one of the five pitcher filters examined, ZeroWater, reduced arsenic levels from 1000 micrograms per liter to below the regulatory limit of 10 micrograms per liter. According to the authors, the ZeroWater pitcher filter is a cost-effective and short-term solution for removing arsenic from drinking water, and its use reduces plastic waste associated with bottled water. In addition, the pitcher filter is an option for individuals and families who want to reduce arsenic in drinking water from private wells but who may not have the resources to purchase more expensive water treatment systems.

Arsenic exposure, which is prevalent across the globe, has been linked to numerous health problems, including diabetes, lung disease, and cancer. According to the authors, an estimated 3 million people in the United States use well water containing arsenic above U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization safety guidelines. The Dartmouth SRP Center aims to help the public become aware of the presence and health implications of arsenic in the food and water supply. In addition to identifying solutions for removing arsenic from drinking water, they also have encouraged private well owners to test their water for arsenic and to treat it, if necessary.

July 31, 2017

Risk e-Learning Web Seminar Series on Analytical Tools and Methods a Big Success

Click the links below to download the archived video podcast for each of the three sessions:

In a spring 2017 three-part Risk e-Learning Web seminar series titled "Analytical Tools and Methods," the Superfund Research Program (SRP) highlighted groundbreaking chemical detection, measurement, and fate and transport modeling techniques developed by grantees. In total, this series attracted 1,209 live participants, 6,543 online archive views, 1,419 audio podcast downloads, and 14,596 video podcast downloads.

The first session, Field-Ready Biosensors to Assess Bioavailability and Toxicity, was held on April 17. Michael Unger, Ph.D., from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, April Gu, Ph.D., from the Northeastern University SRP Center, and Natalia Vasylieva, Ph.D., and Bogdan Barnych, Ph.D., from the University of California, Davis SRP Center described their tools to improve human and environmental monitoring.

The second session on May 22 focused on Techniques for Trace Analysis of Metals and Chemical Mixtures. Bruce Buchholz, Ph.D., from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Tracy Punshon, Ph.D., from the Dartmouth College SRP Center, and Lee Ferguson, Ph.D., from the Duke University SRP Center highlighted practical techniques to measure trace levels of potentially harmful materials and mixtures.

The final session, Fate and Transport of Contaminants, was held on June 12. Keri Hornbuckle, Ph.D., from the University of Iowa SRP Center, Jennifer Guelfo, Ph.D., from the Brown University SRP Center, and Mark Brusseau, Ph.D., from the University of Arizona SRP Center discussed tools and methods to detect contaminants and measure their fate and transport in the environment.

More details and archives of each session are available on the SRP Risk e-Learning series page. Risk e-Learning webinars are conducted by the SRP in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Land and Emergency Management. The two-hour sessions focus on sharing innovative treatment and site characterization technologies with EPA risk assessors and regional project managers, state and local regulatory agencies, environmental engineering and consulting firms, and academia.

July 28, 2017

Arizona Emerging Contaminants Report Informed by UA SRP Researchers

Emerging Contaminants in Arizona Water: A Status Report (September 2016)

University of Arizona (UA) Superfund Research Program researchers Leif Abrell, Ph.D., and Mark Brusseau, Ph.D., contributed to a report on contaminants of emerging concern in Arizona's water supplies as part of the Advisory Panel on Emerging Contaminants (APEC).

In the report, the 35-member panel documented emerging contaminants in surface water, groundwater, reclaimed water, and drinking water. They focused on a list of 109 emerging contaminants that included both synthetic and naturally occurring chemicals and microorganisms that have been detected in Arizona waters, including pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and other chemicals such as perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid.

They also provided recommendations to improve the identification, management, and communication of the occurrence of chemical and microbial emerging contaminants in Arizona waters, with the goal of minimizing risk to human health and the environment.

Recommendations to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) included:

  • Establishing a permanent APEC committee, facilitating the creation of regional APEC teams / working groups, and collaborating with research entities;
  • Partnering to enhance proper disposal of medications;
  • Sponsoring a statewide laboratory consortium pooling resources to develop monitoring programs; and
  • Conducting workshops, training, and seminars for water utilities and the public.

APEC was formed by ADEQ to advise the agency and water utilities on matters concerning unregulated chemicals and pathogens in water. APEC members include researchers from Arizona’s major universities and experts from water utilities, regulatory agencies, public health agencies, and water quality laboratories, as well as environmental consultants, legal experts, and members of the public. Leif and Brusseau have been a part of the panel since its formation in 2012.

July 27, 2017

Special Issue Highlights Environmental Challenges in Central and Eastern Europe

Kelly Pennell, Slawomir Lomnicki, and Bill Suk

Suk, right, delivered the keynote speech at CEECHE, focusing on future directions for environmental health research and the need for innovative research strategies and collaborations.
(Photo courtesy of Bernhard Hennig)

A special issue titled "Environmental Challenges in Central and Eastern Europe" was published by the journal Reviews on Environmental Health after the April 2016 Central and Eastern European Conference on Health and the Environment (CEECHE) meeting in Prague. The Superfund Research Program (SRP) co-sponsored the meeting with the Institute of Experimental Medicine in the Czech Republic. SRP staff and grantees wrote several articles about environmental health challenges in Central and Eastern Europe and similar problems across the globe.

SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., outlined historical perspectives on the international effort to collectively explore and share knowledge about innovative remediation technologies and emerging environmental exposure science. Additionally, his article focuses on practical approaches for minimizing exposures to potentially harmful chemicals and reducing the burden of disease in Central and Eastern Europe.

SRP Health Science Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., and Suk co-authored a review highlighting SRP-funded detection and remediation technologies with a focus on sustainable approaches. The article describes a variety of new devices and tools for exposure assessment and remediation of organic and inorganic contaminants or mixtures of the two.

Reviews on Environmental Health

Several SRP grantees also contributed articles to this special issue:

  • Guest Editor Bernhard Hennig, Ph.D., of the University of Kentucky (UK) SRP Center, discussed environmental challenges in Central and Eastern Europe. He also co-authored a review article with Jessie Hoffman, Ph.D., and Michael Petriello, Ph.D., about the impact of nutrition on the toxicity of pollutants. In another review article, Hennig, Petriello, Hoffman, and Andrew Morris, Ph.D., discuss the emerging roles of xenobiotic detoxification enzymes in metabolic diseases.

  • A mini review co-authored by UK SRP Center researcher Kelly Pennell, Ph.D., discusses air exchange rates and alternative vapor entry pathways that can be used to inform exposure and risk assessments.

  • A review by Erin Madeen, Ph.D., and David Williams, Ph.D., from the Oregon State University SRP Center, describes early life exposures to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and adult male infertility.

  • UK SRP Center researchers Zach Hilt, Ph.D., Angela Gutierrez, Ph.D., and Thomas Dziubla, Ph.D., contributed a review article highlighting recent advances in iron oxide magnetic nanoparticles for remediation of organic pollutants in water.

  • Anna Hoover, Ph.D., from the UK SRP Center, contributed an original article on risk communication with stakeholders at a Superfund site in the United States and highlights areas for improvement.

June 30, 2017

UA SRP Center Communicates Findings at Community Forum

Animas River

The Animas River immediately after the 2015 Gold King Mine spill. The gold color resulted from highly acidic iron mixing with less acidic water in the stream. The color of the water has since returned to normal.
(Photo courtesy of the UA SRP Center)

University of Arizona Superfund Research Program (UA SRP) Center Community Engagement Core Leader Karletta Chief, Ph.D., recently updated the impacted community about the Center's work in the aftermath of the 2015 Gold King Mine spill. Chief, along with collaborators from the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency, spoke at the Shiprock Chapter House about the Center’s progress over the last two years.

After 3 million gallons of metal-polluted water, which included lead and arsenic, was released into the Animas and San Juan Rivers, UA SRP Center researchers sprang into action to inform the surrounding community about the extent of the contamination. The UA team also initiated studies in response to concerns about potential harm to the environment and human health.

Karletta Chief and students standing next to a pickup truck

Chief directs students in proper techniques for collecting water and sediment samples from the Animas River.
(Photo courtesy of the UA SRP Center)

The two groups collected and analyzed hundreds of samples over time, including water, sediment, and fish tissue. Their results show that metals in the river, wells, and irrigation canals continue to be below EPA standards for drinking water and agricultural use. The team is awaiting final results for fish and sediments, and they intend to release results in the fall from health assessments conducted on 123 participants.

This information is particularly important to tribal community members along the impacted river, who have been concerned about the safety of using the water for personal use, as well as for watering crops and livestock.

June 22, 2017

SRP Participates in Small Business Innovation Conference

Heather Henry and Dibakar Bhattacharyya

Henry, left, with Bhattacharyya at the TechConnect Expo, held in conjunction with the conference, which showcased innovative technology providers, technology development partners, and federal agencies.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

Superfund Research Program (SRP) Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., was a part of the NIEHS delegation to the National Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) / Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Conference May 15 - 17 in Washington, D.C. The SBIR/STTR conference was held jointly with the TechConnect World Innovation Conference, an annual event designed to accelerate commercialization of innovative products.

As part of the program, Dibakar Bhattacharyya, Ph.D., an SRP grantee at the University of Kentucky, spoke about his work to develop advanced water membrane technologies. He discussed how these membranes can be used to capture metals and degrade other pollutants to reduce contamination of aquifers and provide safe drinking water. The technical program highlighted new tools and devices from industrial, government, and academic laboratories worldwide.

The conference provides a way for technology developers to learn about the small business research grant programs offered by 11 federal agencies. In addition to presentations about the SBIR/STTR application process, the conference featured one-on-one meetings between federal representatives and potential applicants seeking insight and tips for successful applications. As a participant in the meetings, Henry provided guidance about SRP's small business research program, which fosters commercialization of technologies, products, and devices related to detecting or cleaning up hazardous substances.

June 05, 2017

SRP Highlighted at Data Science Symposium

Stefano Monti and Michelle Heacock

Monti, left, with Heacock, right, during the symposium at the University of Cincinnati.
(Photo courtesy of Michelle Heacock)

Superfund Research Program (SRP) representatives provided the environmental health perspective on big data at an NIH data science symposium May 16 - 18 in Cincinnati. The symposium was hosted by the NIH Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) and Library of Integrated Network-Based Cellular Signatures (LINCS) Data Coordination and Integration Center.

The BD2K-LINCS Data Science Symposium brought together scientists from academia, industry, and government to talk about using large datasets to improve drug development, biomedicine, and environmental health research.

SRP Health Scientist Administrator Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., presented NIEHS efforts to understand what people are exposed to in the environment and whether those exposures affect our health. She discussed such issues as the timing of exposure and the organ or tissue that may be affected by it.

She also discussed how big data may be used to estimate how the body responds to multiple chemicals. For example, she described the NIEHS-funded Comparative Toxicogenomics Database (CTD), a compilation of manually curated data about interactions between chemicals, genes, and diseases. With the CTD, researchers can identify different chemicals that lead to changes to genes and proteins in the body. By integrating these data with information about molecular pathways, they can also identify whether these changes are linked to human diseases.

Heacock also provided an overview of the SRP and described how diverse types of SRP data may be used together. She encouraged researchers to leverage existing data and to share their data with other scientists.

Stefano Monti, Ph.D., a professor at the Boston University (BU) School of Public Health and a BU SRP Center grantee, discussed his work using large datasets to screen for chemicals that may cause cancer. He highlighted his collaboration with the NIEHS National Toxicology Program using computational models to predict long-term cancer risk based on data from short-term exposure studies. This project is a step toward simpler and cheaper tests to screen chemicals for cancer risk.

Monti and Heacock also participated in a panel that focused on improving the use of big data in environmental health science.

May 16, 2017

SRP Trainees Host Super FUN: Science for a Safer World Booth at Cal Day

Passport to Science

Children documented their journey through the world of science at different booths by collecting stamps or stickers in a "Passport to Science." Each child at the Super FUN booth received a passport stamp, a bookmark, and a sticker, all with the SRP logo.
(Photo courtesy of Sylvia Sanchez)

On April 22, trainees from the University of California (UC) Berkeley Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center hosted a booth, "Super FUN: Science for a Safer World," at the annual Cal Day celebration. The popular event, which promotes various programs and activities at UC Berkeley, attracts thousands of people, including students, faculty and staff, families, and school groups

Trainees in engineering and biology collaborated to create fun and educational materials to share the mission and achievements of the UC Berkeley SRP Center. Attendees learned what Superfund sites are, how researchers study the health effects of potentially harmful chemicals, and how they develop innovative technologies to reduce the levels of these chemicals in the environment.

Trainees also developed engaging hands-on activities. For example, visitors conducted a fun and messy experiment wherein water was first contaminated with green food coloring and then filtered through sand or activated charcoal to visualize effective remediation strategies. Older children and adults learned about the UC Berkeley SRP Center from a handout that was designed by trainees. Participants then tested their knowledge in a fun trivia challenge. Younger children learned through coloring books illustrating different aspects of the environment.

SRP trainees speaking with students and their families
UC Berkeley SRP trainees discuss the results of the water contamination and remediation experiment with participants. Cal Day aims to communicate and share research with the public, as well as to spark interest in environmental health science careers among the youth.
(Photo courtesy of Sylvia Sanchez)

May 04, 2017

SRP Researchers Shine at American Chemical Society Meeting

Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees from all over the country gathered for the 2017 American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting in San Francisco this April. Presentations and posters by SRP grantees highlighted innovative SRP-funded research including technologies to detect and remediate potentially harmful chemicals in the environment.

Moving Technologies to the Field

SRP Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., co-chaired an ACS symposium titled “From the Bench to the Field: Evaluating Innovative Remediation and Detection Technologies,” with Souhail Al-Abed, Ph.D., of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The symposium featured six SRP trainees, four small business grantees, and three SRP researchers. The presenters shared their experiences of the often iterative process of applying new technologies to complex field environments. They also discussed how they have used those experiences to further optimize their tools.

ACS Morning Symposium Presenters

Some of the morning symposium presenters, with co-chairs, from left: Jeffrey Crosby, Ph.D., Picoyune; Miller; Inseong Hwang, Ph.D., Pusan National University; Peter Stevenson, EPA; Alan Humphrey, EPA; Al-Abed; Henry; John McKernan, EPA; Gutierrez; and Battaglia.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

Among the trainees, University of California (UC) Berkeley SRP Center postdoctoral fellow Ray Keren, Ph.D., presented his work on understanding the genes and other biological elements involved in communities of bacteria that can degrade trichloroethylene (TCE), a human carcinogen that has been found in underground water sources and surface waters. Another UC Berkeley trainee, Jean Van Buren, described her research to understand the byproducts that may be produced when contaminants are treated with persulfate, which her research team is investigating as a method to remove contaminants in the environment. Other SRP trainee presenters included Lauren Redfern from Duke University, Angela Gutierrez from the University of Kentucky, and Lisandra Santiago Delgado from Oregon State University (OSU).

During the small business talks, Anthony Miller, Ph.D., from the SRP-funded Entanglement Technologies, discussed his company’s work to develop an air monitoring device to measure TCE and other contaminants that can volatilize into the air. SRP small business grantee David Battaglia, Ph.D., of Lynntech, described his company’s tool to develop membranes for water purification and recycling. Presenters from two other SRP-funded small businesses, Picoyune and Microvi Biotechnologies, also presented as part of the session.

ACS Afternoon Presenters

Afternoon presenters, with co-chairs, from left: Phillip Gedalanga, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles; Henry; Al-Abed; Durant; Redfern; Van Buren; and Mattes.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

In another talk, Neal Durant, Ph.D., a scientist at Geosyntec Consultants and collaborator on an SRP-funded individual research project at Johns Hopkins University, described the 20-year development of a tool to treat chlorinated pollutants in clays and silts. The presentation included findings from early work by current Northeastern University SRP Center Director Akram Alshawabkeh, Ph.D. In another presentation, Tim Mattes, Ph.D., from the University of Iowa, provided an update on using bacteria to remove polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)  from sediments.

Recognizing SRP Grantee Jerrold Schnoor

A symposium on April 3 honored the work of Jerrold Schnoor, Ph.D., a former editor of Environmental Science and Technology, an ACS journal, and current SRP grantee at the University of Iowa. The symposium featured research on pollutant modeling and transport, remediation of pollutants using plants, and transport of nanoparticles. According to the symposium announcement, Schnoor has had a profound impact on environmental chemistry through his leadership in the field and his contributions to improving environmental health education.

During the symposium, Henry discussed Schnoor’s work as a project leader with the Iowa SRP Center since 2006, where he has focused on how plants can degrade PCBs, a contaminant found in soil, groundwater, and air.

Highlighting Achievements in Environmental Chemistry

UC Berkeley SRP Center grantee David Sedlak, Ph.D., led a symposium highlighting innovative findings in environmental science and technology. Among the presenters, OSU SRP Center project leader Staci Simonich, Ph.D., described her research using bacteria to remove polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from contaminated soil.

April 20, 2017

Northeast SRP Researchers Gather to Discuss Research and Opportunities for Collaboration

Joe Graziano speaking to meeting attendees

Center Director Joe Graziano, Ph.D., shares about the research underway at the Columbia University SRP Center.
(Photo courtesy of Akram Alshawabkeh)

On April 4 and 5, SRP researchers from institutions across the northeast gathered in Boston for the Northeast Superfund Research Program (SRP) Meeting. The event was hosted by the Northeastern University PROTECT SRP Center and co-sponsored by SRP Centers from Boston University, Brown University, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, and the University of Pennsylvania.

The meeting began with an overview of the six northeast centers. Subsequent sessions focused on regionally important topics, such as reducing exposure to arsenic in drinking water, SRP-community interactions, the use of big data in environmental science research, and perspectives on the health risks of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances. The sessions were very well received and resulted in engaging dialogue. A reception and poster session provided SRP trainees the opportunity to present their research and to network with others in the northeast SRP community.

Akram Alshawabkeh speaking with a trainee

Northeastern University SRP Center Director Akram Alshawabkeh, Ph.D., left, talks with a trainee about her research during the poster session.
(Photo courtesy of Akram Alshawabkeh)

The event concluded with a brainstorming session on how the northeast SRP Centers can engage in future collaborative activities. Ideas included offering workshops on environmental health topics, holding informal lightning talks, and planning science cafés where trainees and researchers can communicate their findings to the public.

Directors of the six northeastern SRP Centers plan to hold this meeting annually to share ideas and promote regional collaborations.

 

April 19, 2017

SRP Grantees Present at NAS Workshop

Kim Boekelheide speaking at the front of a meeting room

Boekelheide delivered opening remarks at the workshop.
(Photo courtesy of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine)

Four Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees were involved in the Advances in Causal Understanding for Human Health Risk-Based Decision Making workshop, held March 6 - 7 in Washington, D.C. The workshop explored how modern advances in bioinformatics can be incorporated into human health decision making. Hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) Standing Committee on Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions (ESEHD) and sponsored by NIEHS, the event opened with remarks by ESEHD co-chair Kim Boekelheide, Ph.D., from the Brown University SRP Center.

Novel bioinformatics and molecular approaches have advanced our understanding of how exposure to environmental agents influences pathways and networks that are involved in disease at the molecular level. However, since public health risk assessments rarely consider these molecular insights sufficient to establish causality, regulators still rely primarily on traditional endpoints from animal studies.

Margaret Karagas

Margaret Karagas, Ph.D., a project leader at the Dartmouth SRC, moderated a session exploring novel research tools and frameworks.
(Photo courtesy of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine)

During a session on case studies of current approaches for determining causality, University of California, Berkeley SRP Center Director Martyn Smith, Ph.D., discussed key characteristics of carcinogens that provide a basis for an objective, systematic approach for identifying and evaluating mechanistic data. Michigan State University SRP Center Director Norbert Kaminski, Ph.D., participated in a simulated debate regarding the use of human cells in toxicity testing. In the debate, Kaminski was tasked with challenging the traditional use of animal models and presenting the advantages of using human cells.

The NAS workshop brought together leading environmental health experts, including toxicologists, statisticians, sociologists, epidemiologists, regulators, and others to discuss the current thinking around causal models and how to move these ideas forward in decision making to better protect human health.

April 03, 2017

Airlift Environmental Participates in Commercialization Accelerator Program

Steve Comfort and Heather Henry

Comfort and Henry pictured at the FeedForward Session for CAP participants
(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

Superfund Research Program (SRP) small business awardee Airlift Environmental LLC was recently accepted into the National Institutes of Health Commercialization Accelerator Program (CAP) and participated in a FeedForward session March 16 - 17 in Washington, D.C. FeedForward provides critical industry and customer feedback on each participant's product and commercialization strategy.

The competitive CAP program helps some of the agency's most promising small business awardees transition their SRP Small Business Innovation Research / Small Business Technology Transfer Research (SBIR/STTR)-funded technologies into the marketplace. CAP requires significant effort on the part of the small business, including the creation of a commercialization strategy tool kit, but provides selected participants with individualized assistance to achieve market readiness. This includes individual mentoring and consulting sessions, training workshops, and access to domain experts both remotely and through in-person events. SRP Program Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., participated as an onsite mentor in the FeedForward session.

Airlift Environmental, in partnership with Steve Comfort, Ph.D., from the University of Nebraska, received an SRP-funded STTR grant to develop slow-release oxidant-paraffin candles that dissolve and capture contaminants in groundwater. This technology provides an efficient, cost-effective method to clean up groundwater contaminated with trichloroethylene, as shown in a recent five-year performance review. As a CAP participant, they are working to develop a solid plan for commercializing their SRP-funded technology.

March 30, 2017

SRP Brings Solution-Oriented Science to SOT

Danielle Carlin, Rebecca Fry, and Bill Suk

Suk, right, kicked off the historical highlights session with an overview of the SRP. In addition to co-chairing the session with Carlin, left, Fry, center, gave a presentation on systems toxicology approaches to understanding the effects of toxic metals.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees from all over the country gathered in Baltimore, Maryland for the 2017 Society of Toxicology (SOT) Annual Meeting March 12 - 16. Grantees and staff gave talks and presented posters highlighting SRP-funded research advances in toxicology. The meeting also provided a forum to share information and to learn about new findings.

SRP Health Scientist Administrator Danielle Carlin, Ph.D., co-chaired a historical highlights section with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) SRP Center Director Rebecca Fry, Ph.D. The session, which focused on cutting-edge science and innovative technologies, highlighted the ways in which the SRP takes a problem-solving, solution-oriented approach combining laboratory, field, and population-based studies to improve our understanding of exposure to pollutants and how to minimize their potential health effects. The session included presentations by SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., and Center Directors Robert Tanguay, Ph.D., from the Oregon State University SRP Center, Stephania Cormier, Ph.D., from the Louisiana State University SRP Center, and Bernhard Hennig, Ph.D., from the University of Kentucky (UK) SRP Center.

Kelly Fader

Fader, an MSU SRP Center trainee, discussed her work related to the potential effects of dioxin on the liver.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

Students were represented from a variety of SRP Centers and also received several awards. Among them, Fabian Grimm, Ph.D., a trainee at Texas A&M University under the guidance of UNC SRP Center grantee Ivan Rusyn, Ph.D., received an SOT best postdoctoral publication award and a Syngenta fellowship award in human health applications of new technologies. Michigan State University (MSU) SRP Center trainee Kelly Fader received a student travel award and was a finalist for the Mechanisms Specialty Section Carl C. Smith Award. An abstract by Duke University SRP Center trainee Anthony Luz was selected as one of ten high quality abstracts authored by students or postdocs. Yvonne Chang, an Oregon State University SRP Center trainee, was awarded a best abstract award in the mixtures specialty section. An MSU SRP Center paper was also awarded Honorable Mention in the SOT Toxicological Sciences Paper of the Year category.

Bernhard Hennig and Banrida Wahlang

Hennig, left, with UK SRP Center postdoctoral researcher Banrida Wahlang, Ph.D., right. Hennig presented research related to how good nutrition may help reduce the negative health effects of some environmental pollutants.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Henry)

NIEHS SRP staff members Carlin, Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., Heather Henry, Ph.D., Brittany Trottier, and Suk were on hand to meet with grantees, view their posters, and discuss their innovative research. Carlin also organized a Research Funding Insights Room. This provided an opportunity for current grantees and applicants to speak with program officers or scientific review officers from NIEHS, other NIH institutes, and other agencies regarding the grants process.

 
March 23, 2017

In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Jim Hunt

James Hunt

James Hunt, Ph.D.
(Photo courtesy of the University of California, Berkeley)

James Hunt, Ph.D., emeritus professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), and former Research Translation Core co-leader for the UC Berkeley Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center, passed away on February 20 after a brief illness. Hunt served on the faculty at UC Berkeley for 33 years, where he was widely admired by students and faculty for both his professional contributions and his kindness.

An expert in groundwater transport of organic contaminants, Hunt initiated and led a research project at the UC Berkeley SRP Center to understand how perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel waste, moves through soil into groundwater. His work demonstrated how dense contaminants sink through an aquifer and diffuse into what is called a lower-permeability confining layer and ultimately into groundwater.

Fellow UC Berkeley SRP Center co-leader David Sedlak, Ph.D., spoke warmly of Hunt. "Jim was my faculty mentor and role model," he said. "He taught me the importance of being a critical thinker, especially when it seems like the accepted approach to solving a problem doesn't seem to be working. Leading by example, he also showed us the importance of selflessness and putting the interest of students first. We miss him."

Jim served the campus in numerous leadership roles, including service as a member of the Budget Committee and Divisional Council and as associate vice provost for Academic Planning and Facilities. He also directed the Berkeley Water Center and the Institute for Environmental Science and Engineering. He was appointed to the Lawrence E. Peirano Endowed Chair in 1999, which he held until his retirement in 2013.

March 06, 2017

Duke SRP Center Project Leader Featured in NSF Science Video

Mark Wiesner and a member of his lab

Wiesner and a lab member working in their simulated wetland ecosystem
(Photo courtesy of the National Science Foundation)

Duke University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center project leader Mark Wiesner, Ph.D., members of his lab, and other Duke SRP Center collaborators were recently featured in a National Science Foundation (NSF) Science360 Video about nanomaterials.

The video highlights research in Wiesner's lab that uses controlled laboratory systems simulating the natural environment to better understand how nanomaterials move through and impact wetland ecosystems. The video also features work from Duke SRP Center project co-leader Heileen Hsu-Kim, Ph.D., and project leader Richard Di Giulio, Ph.D., to understand how nanoscale materials affect living things, including fish and wildlife.

Wiesner, director of the NSF-funded Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT) at Duke University, also co-authored the recently released Second Edition of Environmental Nanotechnology: Applications and Impacts of Nanomaterials with a team of leading experts from around the world. This comprehensive reference text provides an in-depth look at nanomaterial technologies, their use in engineering applications, and how some nanomaterials may impact the environment. The Second Edition provides up-to-date information on a rapidly developing field and references research conducted by Duke SRP Center investigators. Wiesner's research with the center focuses on how to use nanomaterials safely to clean up contaminated water without negatively affecting the environment.

March 02, 2017

Dartmouth SRP Project Leaders Featured in Science Magazine News Highlight

David Salt, Keeve Nachman, Mary Lou Guerinot, and Margaret Karagas

The AAAS session included, from left, David Salt, Ph.D., from the University of Nottingham, Keeve Nachman, Ph.D., from Johns Hopkins University, Guerinot, and Karagas.
(Photo courtesy of the Dartmouth SRP Center)

On February 17, Dartmouth College Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center project leader Margaret Karagas, Ph.D., spoke at a special session at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Attended by 60 people, including the press, the session was highlighted in a Science Magazine news feature.

Organized by fellow Dartmouth SRP Center project leader Mary Lou Guerinot, Ph.D., the session addressed how arsenic is taken up from soil and water by food crops and ends up on people's plates. It also included discussion of emerging health outcomes and challenges for translating new research on dietary arsenic exposure to public health policy, which historically has focused only on exposure to arsenic from contaminated drinking water.

Part of the session was based on the Dartmouth SRP Center's Collaborative on Food with Arsenic and associated Risk and Regulation (C-FARR), which includes researchers, policy stakeholders, and program leaders working together over a two-year period to gather and analyze data on human exposure to arsenic from food. One of the C-FARR initiatives is to inventory foods that contain arsenic and to share that information with members of the public so they can make better choices to reduce their intake of foods containing higher levels of arsenic.

After the session, at a special news briefing, Dartmouth SRP members launched Arsenic and You, the first website to provide comprehensive information on arsenic in food, water, and other sources. They developed the site collaboratively with the Columbia University, University of Arizona, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of California, Berkeley, and University of Kentucky SRP Centers. Arsenic and You is a valuable resource for families, caregivers, and vulnerable populations, and it can be easily accessed on mobile devices.

February 14, 2017

NIEHS Distinguished Lecture Series Features SRP Grantee

Ronald Evans

Evans discussed how nuclear hormone receptors respond to hazardous chemical exposures and how they can be targeted to treat disease.

(Photo courtesy of Steven R. McCaw, NIEHS Multimedia Services)

During an NIEHS Distinguished Lecture on February 7, Ronald Evans, Ph.D., discussed how a large family of molecules discovered in his lab, called nuclear hormone receptors, respond to hormones, lipids, vitamins, and xenobiotics, and how they can be used as targets to treat disease.

Evans, Director of the Gene Expression Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences and a University of California, San Diego Superfund Research Program (UCSD SRP) Center project leader, highlighted a variety of the innovative findings about these receptors from his lab over the years. As part of the UCSD SRP Center, Evans and his team are focusing on nuclear hormone receptors to investigate molecular mechanisms of toxicity from exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Among the receptors discussed was the vitamin D receptor. Although it is widely studied for its role in calcium balance and bone health, Evans discovered and probed its unique role in repairing damaged cells, particularly in the liver.

When the liver is damaged – which can happen via hepatitis virus infection, excessive alcohol consumption, and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis – specialized liver cells called hepatic stellate cells are signaled to create fibrous scar tissue around the damaged site. As fibrosis progresses, healthy liver cells are replaced by scar tissue until eventually the liver can no longer function.

Vitamin D receptors are uncommon in liver tissues, but Evans and his team discovered they are expressed at very high levels in hepatic stellate cells. They found that a synthetic form of vitamin D, called calcipotriol, activates the vitamin D receptor and turns off the fibrotic response in the livers of mice by blocking activation of the hepatic stellate cells. Unlike natural vitamin D, the synthetic ligand is less susceptible to breakdown and is therefore not depleted quickly in the body. His team also recently identified another therapeutic target for liver fibrosis called BRD4.

In addition to identifying potential therapies for liver fibrosis, Evans and his team are advancing the field of molecular genetics by identifying novel targets of pharmacological treatment for a wide range of diseases, including pancreatic cancer, diabetes, breast cancer, atherosclerosis, prostate cancer, obesity, leukemia, asthma, osteoporosis, and hypertension.

February 10, 2017

UNC Team Meets with WIC Program to Enhance Communication of Fish Advisories to Vulnerable Populations

On January 18, members of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center presented information on contaminants in fish in local waterways to a group of 22 nutritionists and case managers with the Lincoln Community Health Center WIC Program in Durham, North Carolina. UNC SRP Research Translation Core (RTC) leader Kathleen Gray described local fish consumption advisories (FCAs) and effective ways to communicate them to the general public, focusing on key messaging and how communication can be improved.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. WIC nutritionists and case managers are responsible for providing nutrition information to clients in the program. Since about half of the meeting participants share information about fish consumption with WIC recipients at least weekly, the group was interested in obtaining more information and resources for communicating the risks of fish consumption while balancing and highlighting the health benefits of eating fish.

Residents of North Carolina who receive benefits from federal assistance programs like WIC are eligible to receive subsistence fishing waivers. In recent years, more than 79,000 North Carolina residents obtained such waivers, according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Since fish make up a larger portion of the diets of these individuals, they are at higher risk of exposure to contaminants compared to typical fish consumers. Previous research by the UNC RTC near a local Superfund site points to the need to communicate FCAs and associated health information in culturally sensitive, low-literacy, and bilingual formats.

At the meeting with WIC staff, Gray piloted new outreach materials developed for low-literacy and non-English speaking audiences and received feedback and input from the participants. WIC staff expressed interest in working with the RTC to collaboratively develop materials that could be shared with their clients. WIC classes offering information on nutrition and health, such as FCAs, have shown successful retention rates compared to written materials alone. This partnership also offers an evidence-based path to reach women of childbearing age who may not be aware of relevant FCAs.

Moving forward, Gray and the UNC RTC team are pursuing similar training opportunities with nurses, nutritionists, and case managers in other local WIC programs. Fish are an important part of a healthy diet, and partnerships with WIC staff will help inform families about local FCAs and educate them on making the best choices among locally available fish. For more information about the possible contaminants in fish and their health effects, as well as local FCAs, visit the UNC SRP Eat Fish, Choose Wisely website and see a recent NIEHS Environmental Factor article highlighting this work.

Screenshot of the Eat Fish, Choose Wisely Homepage
The UNC SRP website Eat Fish, Choose Wisely provides information about contaminants in fish, health impacts, local FCAs, and tips for reducing exposure. The website was highlighted as a resource for WIC staff to share with their clients.

January 26, 2017

Using Zebrafish for Chemical Screening and Sustainable Chemical Design

Zebrafish

Zebrafish can be used as a tool to screen large chemical libraries for toxic effects.

(Photo courtesy of Robert Tanguay)

A recent review out of the Oregon State University Superfund Research Program (OSU SRP) describes how zebrafish have become an important model to screen for chemical toxicity. The article, published in the journal Green Chemistry, points to major advances in testing methods that have positioned zebrafish as an applicable model for chemical safety evaluations and efforts to develop more sustainable chemicals.

According to the authors, led by OSU SRP Center investigator Robert Tanguay, Ph.D., there is a growing recognition that the use of traditional test models and empirical approaches is impractical to screen the toxicity of thousands of chemicals in the environment and hundreds of new chemicals introduced each year. This has prompted efforts to implement more predictive approaches to evaluate chemical toxicity early in product development.

The use of zebrafish has accelerated recently in genetic toxicology, high throughput screening (HTS), and behavioral testing. HTS technologies with zebrafish enable the screening of large chemical libraries for bioactivity early in the development of new chemicals. Previous research has shown that many toxic responses are shared among fish and mammals owing to their generally well-conserved development, cellular networks, and organ systems. These shared responses have been observed for chemicals that impair endocrine functioning, development, and reproduction, as well as those that elicit cardiotoxicity and carcinogenicity, among other diseases.

With zebrafish, researchers are able to characterize toxic effects of chemicals in a variety of cellular processes and compare those processes to changes in the fish, such as developmental malformations. Zebrafish also can be used to assess the toxicity of real-world multi-chemical exposures.

Tanguay leads an OSU SRP Center project that uses systems approaches in zebrafish to understand the mechanisms of toxicity of complex mixtures of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are routinely found at Superfund sites. Several studies have shown increased incidence of lung, skin, and urinary cancer in humans exposed to PAH mixtures. Many individual PAH compounds also have been classified as probable or possible carcinogens. Because PAHs are widespread in the environment as mixtures, it is difficult to tease out exposure and toxic effects. Researchers led by Tanguay are using zebrafish to identify environmentally relevant PAH mixtures that pose a hazard and to identify the gene responses that drive the toxic endpoints.