Superfund Research Program
- In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Jim Hunt
- Duke SRP Center Project Leader Featured in NSF Science Video
- Dartmouth SRP Project Leaders Featured in Science Magazine News Highlight
- NIEHS Distinguished Lecture Series Features SRP Grantee
- UNC Team Meets with WIC Program to Enhance Communication of Fish Advisories to Vulnerable Populations
- Using Zebrafish for Chemical Screening and Sustainable Chemical Design
In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Jim Hunt
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.
Duke SRP Center Project Leader Featured in NSF Science Video
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.
Dartmouth SRP Project Leaders Featured in Science Magazine News Highlight
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.
NIEHS Distinguished Lecture Series Features SRP Grantee
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.
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.
Using Zebrafish for Chemical Screening and Sustainable Chemical Design
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.