Superfund Research Program
SRP Researchers and Trainees Travel to China for IEBMC Meeting
Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees were well represented at the sixth annual International Experimental Biology and Medicine Conference (IEBMC), held October 19 – 21 in Chengdu, China. Co-sponsored by SRP, the 2018 IEBMC focused on environmental health and medicine.
IEBMC brings together international partners to advance experimental biology and medicine and facilitates conversation between established career scientists, policy officials, and trainees. Invited lecturers included current SRP grantees Stephania Cormier, Ph.D., from the Louisiana State University SRP Center and Robert Tanguay, Ph.D., of the Oregon State University SRP Center. Former SRP grantees Kenneth Ramos, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona and Alvaro Puga, Ph.D., of the University of Cincinnati were also invited lecturers.
Participants shared and discussed the latest research on air pollution and human health, assessing the toxicity of hazardous contaminants, precision medicine, emerging technologies, and bioinformatics.
SRP Health Scientist Administrator Danielle Carlin, Ph.D., gave an invited talk focused on using atherosclerosis as a case study to understand the joint action of environmental chemical and nonchemical stressors.
Soil Conference Explores Connection Between Soil Microbes and Human Health
Nearly 200 scientists and organization leaders from diverse backgrounds came together at the recent Conference on Connections Between Soil Health and Human Health, held October 16 – 17 in Silver Spring, Maryland. Coordinated by the Soil Health Institute, the working meeting aimed to provide a roadmap for exploring the connections between soil microbe ecosystems, soil health, food production, nutrition, and human health.
Superfund Research Program (SRP) Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., participated in a panel discussion about funding opportunities for research linking soil health and human health.
"SRP's transdisciplinary research approaches serve as an excellent model for addressing the complex research questions identified at the meeting," noted Henry. "Several of our grantees are leaders in understanding the connections between human health as a function of soil-plant-contaminant interactions – both in terms of research and community engagement."
Henry described several relevant SRP-funded research projects, including studies about mechanisms to limit arsenic uptake in rice, minimizing contaminant uptake in urban gardens, understanding exposure pathways through contaminated soil, and the impact of biota (plants, fungi, or bacteria, for example) on reducing contamination.
Other attendees included representatives from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and scientists with expertise in soil health, food quality and food security, human health, bioavailability, land management, toxicology, and soil cleanup. The workshop leveraged the multidisciplinary expertise of participants to develop ten recommended research priorities. These priorities include understanding how microbiome structure and function relate to human and soil health; integrating existing human health and soil health data; and enhancing communication strategies between health, agricultural, and environmental sectors.
One Year Later, SRP Researchers Investigate the Health Impacts of Hurricane Maria
After Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm in September 2017, Northeastern University Superfund Research Program (SRP) researchers immediately responded, reaching out to participants involved in an ongoing study on exposure impacts in pregnant women and providing essential supplies. Now, more than one year later, they continue to investigate the effects of Maria, including the potential long-term health impacts from exposure to contaminated water and air.
The Northeastern SRP Center, the Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT), began recruiting pregnant women in 2010 to assess the relationship between preterm birth and exposure to potentially hazardous contaminants in Puerto Rico. In the months following the devastation from Maria, PROTECT team members provided supplies, including diapers, mosquito nets, and water filters, and developed educational materials related to potential health impacts of water use. They also continued collecting groundwater and tap water samples, as well as hair and blood samples from study participants.
PROTECT researcher Ingrid Padilla, Ph.D., is comparing tap and groundwater samples collected after the hurricane with previously collected data to see what effects the hurricane may have had on contamination in these water systems. As she explained to Chemical & Engineering News, flooding of Superfund sites may have contributed to a spread of pollutants into water systems, such as trichloroethylene and other chlorinated volatile organic chemicals, and these pollutants have been linked to effects on the liver, kidneys, and immune and reproductive systems. Her team is currently comparing samples they took a month after the storm with those before the storm to see whether the concentrations of some chemicals have increased.
PROTECT researchers led by Akram Alshawabkeh, Ph.D., and April Gu, Ph.D., also are investigating Hurricane Maria’s impact on the environment. Alshawabkeh and Gu, along with Northeastern professor Ameet Pinto, Ph.D., received a National Science Foundation Rapid Response Research grant, Timely Assessment of Water Quality to Reveal the Potential Ecological and Health Impact of Hurricanes at Puerto Rico. Using state-of-the-art toxicity tests, the team is assessing the effects of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on Puerto Rico’s sewage system, drinking water supply, and surface water.