Superfund Research Program
- Nnamdi Osakwe, North Carolina State University
- Jamaji Nwanaji-Enwerem, University of California Berkeley
- Jessica Beard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Jeliyah Clark, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Moala Bannavti, University of Iowa
- Laura Magana, University of California, Berkeley
- Margaret Mills, University of Washington
- Summer Gonsalves, Brown University
- Carmen Velasco, University of New Mexico
- Burcu Beykal, Texas A&M University
- Joshua Preston, University of Kentucky
- Britton Goodale, Dartmouth College
- Anne Nigra, Columbia University
- Jessica Laine, University of North Carolina
- April Rodd, Brown University
- James Sanders, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
- Judit Marsillach Lopez, University of Washington
- Kimberly Danny, University of Arizona
- Lindsey Butler, Boston University
- Piers MacNaughton, Harvard School of Public Health
- Kelly Ferguson, University of Michigan
- Caitlin Howe, Columbia University
- Senthilkumar Perumal Kuppusamy, University of Iowa
- Kin Sing Stephen Lee, University of California Davis SRP Center
- Daniel Gusenleitner, Boston University SRP Center
- Megan Creighton, Brown University SRP
- Thomas Bruton, University of California, Berkeley SRP
- Li Xiao, University of Kentucky SRP
- Leslie Knecht
- Birgit Claus Henn, Ph.D.
- Nour Abdo
- Andy Larkin
- Oleksii Motorykin
- Maggie Murphy
- Zuzana Majkova, Ph.D.
- Sarah Allan
- Dan Brown
- Seunggeun Lee
- Sara Pacheco
- Corin Hammond
- Katryn Eske
- Alison Cohen
- Elizabeth Hoover
- Brad Newsome
- Courtney Kozul Horvath, Ph.D.
- Kathleen McCarty, Ph.D.
- Nick Sinnott-Armstrong
SRP's greatest assets are the students and professionals our researchers train. We have been able to capture several success stories of past graduates who have continued on to successful careers in various sectors. These stories are highlights from our program and show the diversity of experiences our trainees encounter.
A Lasting Legacy in Science and Mentorship
On the 25th anniversary of the death of Karen Wetterhahn, Ph.D., the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) reflects on her continued legacy in scientific excellence and mentorship. She died June 8, 1997, age 48, following dimethylmercury poisoning from a laboratory accident.
Wetterhahn devoted her career to understanding how certain metals initiate cancer and other human diseases at the molecular level. She also fostered interdisciplinary links between biology, chemistry, environmental studies, engineering, and medicine.
As a tribute to this legacy, in 1998, SRP created the annual Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award to recognize and support outstanding early career scientists.
Nnamdi Osakwe, North Carolina State University
Nnamdi Osakwe is a trainee at the North Carolina State University (NCSU) SRP Center. Osakwe is mentored by David Reif, who leads the center’s Data Management and Analysis Core (DMAC).
Tell us about your work with the NCSU SRP Center.
The purpose of my research is to understand the relationship between environmental exposures and human health outcomes in populations disproportionately exposed to poor environmental quality and social inequities, or environmental health disparities. By using bioinformatic techniques —collecting, storing, and analyzing biological data — I hope to provide affected communities and policymakers with data on environmental quality and its effects on human health.
How did you become interested in this work?
As an undergraduate at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), I had the opportunity to work under the guidance of ClarLynda Williams-DeVane to use bioinformatics to study the health disparities surrounding diseases like asthma, diabetes, and obesity. Recognizing the knowledge gaps in health disparities research and the lack of diverse researchers addressing these problems fueled me to pursue this area further.
You recently received a Research Supplement to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research. Tell us about it.
This is a supplement to the center’s DMAC grant and will provide me with the necessary resources to adequately target and study areas disproportionally exposed to contaminants of top priority to SRP, like PFAS. Receiving this supplemental grant confirmed and validated that my research is essential and meaningful to SRP — and to NIEHS as a whole.
Tell us about a project that excites you.
I am collaborating on a project to study the relationship between green spaces and their effects on biological aging, one of the risk factors for many human diseases. I get to combine many of my interests in this project: bioinformatics, environmental health, public health, and health disparities. I am thankful I can pursue my interests while helping to make positive change for often-ignored communities.
What is one piece of advice that you want to share with other SRP trainees?
Patience is key. There is no doubt that graduate school will test your patience in many ways but learning to persevere and take challenges one step at a time has helped me get through this experience. Although it can seem long and difficult, consistent, and gradual progress will eventually lead you to achieve your goals.
Jamaji Nwanaji-Enwerem, University of California Berkeley
As a UC Berkeley SRP Center trainee, Jamaji Nwanaji-Enwerem studied the relationship between environmental exposures and the development of disease in vulnerable populations, particularly children.
Under the mentorship of UC Berkeley SRP Center researcher Andres Cardenas, Nwanaji-Enwerem combined molecular approaches and studies in human populations to understand how environmental toxins can speed up or slow down biological aging, one of the risk factors for many human diseases.
In one study, the team showed that certain cellular signs of aging were associated with Zika-related microencephaly - a life-threatening condition where a baby's head is significantly smaller than expected. According to Nwanaji-Enwerem, these findings might help inform future research to develop measures that can better predict risk of infant mortality.
In a recent commentary, Nwanaji-Enwerem and colleagues discussed the importance of integrating the exposome - the measure of all the exposures individuals experience over their lifetime - into biological aging research to improve health equity. They explained this allows researchers to incorporate social and environmental stressors that can help identify and prevent environmental health disparities.
In 2020, Nwanaji-Enwerem was named an Agents of Change in Environmental Justice, an initiative committed to amplifying neglected voices in environmental health. During his time as an Agent of Change fellow, he produced a podcast about creating healthier communities and collaborated with environmental health professionals with diverse expertise and backgrounds.
He was also named one of the 40 Under 40 Leaders in Health by the National Minority Quality Forum and was recognized for his leadership and innovative research aimed at improving the health of racial minorities.
Now at Emory University, Nwanaji-Enwerem is an emergency medicine resident doctor at the School of Medicine and an adjunct assistant professor at the School of Public Health.
According to Nwanaji-Enwerem, his daily experiences helping people with health issues is an inspiration for many of his environmental health research projects and community-based efforts, including an initiative to help connect, promote, and fund community-level environmental health projects.
In his free time, Nwanaji-Enwerem enjoys spending time with family and friends, exercising, and visiting art exhibits.
Jessica Beard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Jessica Beard, a trainee at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) SRP Center, studies how the compound nitrosamine spreads through the environment. Classified as a probable human carcinogen, nitrosamines are a group of chemicals formed as a by-product during rubber manufacturing, leather tanning, and pesticide production and have been found at various Superfund sites.
Nitrosamines are commonly detected in air and food, but its presence in water is a particular human health concern because it does not degrade easily in water. Current methods to detect nitrosamines in water require time-consuming sample preparation and the use of expensive laboratory equipment.
Under the mentorship of MIT SRP Center researcher Timothy Swager, Beard is exploring how the light-emitting properties of nitrosamines can be leveraged to detect it in water and sediments. Beard hopes to create a simple portable sensor that can be used for on-site water testing by researchers and community members alike. According to Beard, allowing community members to test their own water will help provide information about more sites faster than relying on traditional lab-based methods.
Beard presented this concept in a poster at the 2020 SRP Annual Meeting and was one of the winners of the meeting's poster competition. She is also first author on a publication describing the structure and reactivity of nitrosamine compounds and how those features may dictate their effects on human health.
Outside of the lab, Jessica enjoys hanging out with her friends, exploring local breweries, and spending time at home with her cat. She is also learning German on a phone app - she has been learning the language for 2,060 days and has not missed a day yet.
Jeliyah Clark, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Jeliyah Clark, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) SRP Center, studies the relationship between exposure to environmental contaminants, such as arsenic, and harm to fetal development. Under the mentorship of UNC SRP Center Director Rebecca Fry, she examines how altering prenatal factors, such as maternal diet, may protect developing babies from harmful exposures.
Clark became interested in public health at a young age hearing about her mother's experiences, who worked in an agricultural region and lost her firstborn to childhood cancer. Her mother experiences made Clark determined to study prenatal exposure to chemicals to prevent other families, especially mothers, from experiencing similar tragedies.
In a UNC SRP Center video, Clark described her research using data collected from pregnant women exposed to arsenic-contaminated drinking water to evaluate whether folate protects the developing fetus. B vitamins, like folate, are known to protect against arsenic toxicity in adults, but their effect during pregnancy is less understood. According to Clark, this research could provide evidence that consuming folate during pregnancy protects developing babies from toxic chemicals.
In a recent publication, Clark and the UNC SRP team examined whether a mother's pre-pregnancy weight was associated with the expression of certain genes in the placenta. They found the expression of placenta genes related to growth and nutrient metabolism was altered in male babies whose mothers were underweight pre-pregnancy. Clark explained that these altered genes have previously been associated to low birth weight.
Clark was recently awarded a grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, which recognizes underrepresented minority graduate students doing biomedical research in North Carolina.
Outside of the lab, Clark finds peace spending time with her loved ones, listening to music, exercising, traveling, reading, cooking, and resting outdoors - especially at the beach.
Moala Bannavti, University of Iowa
Moala Bannavti is a trainee at the University of Iowa (UI) SRP Center studying the characterization and potential remediation pathways of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in low-income public middle schools. PCBs are a large and complex group of chemicals that often occur in mixtures. These chemicals can be found in old insulation, electrical equipment, and as the byproducts of pigments used in paint colorants and building materials.
As a first-generation Cameroonian immigrant raised in suburban New Jersey, Bannavti identifies with the issues in minority-predominant low-income school districts. This sparked her interest in investigating PCBs in schools and made her determined to bridge the gap in environmental justice experienced by those of low socioeconomic status.
Bannavti's research can be summarized in two parts. First, Bannavti and team believe it is possible to understand where PCBs come from in a schoolroom based on the age of the room, the overall air profile, and the visible materials within the room. Second, based on these factors, they believe they could determine whether it is best to remediate by replacing certain materials or tearing down the entire school. A related NIEHS-funded study by Bannavti and team suggests this noninvasive targeted source testing could lead to more cost-effective prioritization of materials remediation in schools as it is less expensive compared to tearing down the entire school and rebuilding. Bannavti explained encouraging low-income school districts to test and remediate PCBs would help improve the health of their students.
Bannavti has helped create presentations, flyers, press releases, and other resources of report-back for UI SRP Center research regarding PCBs in school air to the community. She also converses with local stakeholders, such as district superintendents, before deploying any PCB samplers.
Recently, Bannavti was elected president of the UI Graduate and Professional Student Government. The student government represents UI's nearly 10,000 graduate and professional students and advocates on their behalf to university administrators, the Board of Regents, and state and federal legislators. She is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the first sorority established for women of color, and is the chaplain of the Tau Psi Omega Chapter in Iowa City. She loves to eat with friends, binge watch reality television, and since November has been an avid weight-lifter.
Laura Magana, University of California, Berkeley
Laura Magana is a trainee at the UC Berkeley SRP Center studying the correlation between formaldehyde exposure and human disease using animal studies and laboratory experiments.
Formaldehyde, an environmental pollutant used in making building materials and households products, is neurotoxic and carcinogenic. Under the mentorship of Center Director Martyn Smith, Magana hopes to better understand the underlying mechanistic pathways by which formaldehyde exposure can harm human health.
Magana received a 2018 K.C. Donnelly Externship Award Supplement to travel to the Oregon State University SRP Center to learn how to incorporate behavioral and developmental screening tests, as well as gene expression assays, into her research. She is now applying these skills to evaluate formaldehyde toxicity in zebrafish.
She is also conducting mouse studies to explore how formaldehyde exposure disrupts cell function and can result in cancers, such as leukemia. In a recent publication, Magana and other UC Berkeley SRP-funded researchers reported that formaldehyde can damage pulmonary and olfactory cells in mice.
A proud Oregonian Chicana, Magana is passionate about promoting higher participation of women and people of color in science, academia, and leadership positions. She is a member of the Latinx Association for Graduate Students in Engineering and Science, the Latina Researchers Network, the UC Berkeley graduate chapter of Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, and the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly.
An avid mentor, Magana volunteered at UC Berkeley's Expanding Your Horizons in Science and Mathematics Conference, which served to introduce 5th through 8th grade girls to career opportunities in mathematics, science, engineering, computer science, and technology. She also presented at the NSF INCLUDES Symposium for Advancing Latinas in STEM Academic Careers, where she presented data on Latinx presence in doctoral STEM programs.
In her spare time, Magana finds peace visiting her parents and helping out around their farm. She also enjoys hiking, as long as she gets to have a good brunch at the end. A big fan of science fiction, fantasy adventure, and superhero action, Magana loves to relax reading a good book or watching movies.
Margaret Mills, University of Washington
Margaret Mills is a former trainee with the NIEHS-funded University of Washington Superfund Research Program (UW SRP) Center. She recently began a permanent position as a researcher in the UW Department of Virology. On her first day, she started projects on COVID-19. She is now helping validate SARS-Cov-2 testing procedures and working on other projects related to respiratory viral illness.
Mills completed a postdoctoral fellowship under the guidance of Evan Gallagher, where she studied neurobehavioral effects of chemical exposures and created molecular tools to characterize these effects. She developed a targeted panel of zebrafish genes that code for antioxidant proteins to combat oxidative stress. In both zebrafish and humans, these antioxidant genes are regulated by the same protein. In the corresponding study, featured as an SRP Research Brief, she described the method that uses a fast and high-throughput platform to identify chemicals that induce oxidative stress by incorporating the panel of zebrafish genes.
As a UW SRP Center trainee, Mills and her colleagues also developed new ways to measure how exposure to low levels of chemicals like cadmium may lead to neurobehavioral damage and loss of olfaction, or sense of smell, in salmon. These effects can impair behaviors that are critical to survival, like returning to spawning grounds, feeding, and avoiding predators. She used zebrafish to understand the cellular processes that underlie neurological damage and recovery from olfactory injury following metal exposure.
In addition to her research, Mills was also involved in community activities through the UW SRP Center. She often hosted lab tours for high school students and members of the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps .
Summer Gonsalves, Brown University
Summer Gonsalves is a trainee with the NIEHS-funded Brown University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center. She works with the Center's Community Engagement Core (CEC) to promote environmental stewardship and food independence within her Narragansett Indian Tribal community.
During her studies, Gonsalves worked with CEC co-leader Marcella Thompson, Ph.D., on the Namaus (All Things Fish) Project, which assesses contamination of tribal waterways, fish, and shellfish. Gonsalves administered household fish consumption surveys and assisted with data analysis and public outreach within the Narragansett community.
The next year, Gonsalves directed a project called Of the Earth Harvest Boxes for members of the Narragansett Tribe. The boxes contain seasonally, locally sourced produce and meats intended to reduce food insecurity and improve health within the tribe. She later partnered with the CEC to expand the program, doubling the number of harvest boxes delivered to tribal elders and families with children.
As a member of the Tribe herself, Gonsalves aims to be a community caretaker and steward of the environment. She also hopes to instill these values in the next generation as a mentor of the Narragansett Indian Youth Ambassadors. The program includes cultural classes, field trips, nature outings, and guidance for tribal youth looking to apply to college.
Outside of her work with the CEC, Gonsalves enjoys traveling, reading, and gardening. She recently began volunteering for an organization that oversees 52 community gardens in Rhode Island.
Carmen Velasco, University of New Mexico
Carmen A. Velasco, a Ph.D. candidate at the NIEHS-funded University of New Mexico Metals Exposure and Toxicity Assessment on Tribal Lands in the Southwest Superfund Research Program (METALS SRP) Center, studies the environmental conditions that control how uranium, a toxic metal, moves in the environment at abandoned mine sites.
Mentored by METALS SRP project leader Jose M. Cerrato, Ph.D., Velasco researches strategies to immobilize metals and prevent them from contaminating water. In the Cerrato lab, she uses cutting-edge environmental science and engineering techniques to explore molecular mechanisms that influence how uranium moves and changes in the environment.
The long-term goal of Velasco's research is to ensure underserved communities affected by uranium contamination, particularly Navajo communities, have access to clean water. Through data collection and community engagement, Velasco has learned the importance of listening to and understanding the concerns of communities, and reporting study results back to those communities.
Bridging her interests of community engagement and water quality, Velasco is the president of the American Water Works Association (AWWA) UNM student chapter. This year, she received the first-place award for her poster, titled "Influence of pH and Natural Organic Matter on the Solubility of Uranium," at the Rocky Mountain Section of the AWWA meeting and second-place poster at the AWWA Annual Conference. She was also named the 2019 recipient of the James B. Warner Scholarship Rocky Mountain Section of the AWWA and the recipient of the 2019 Tony Campman Award granted by the Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association.
Velasco recently received a First Time User Award from the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, providing her the opportunity to conduct a week of experiments at the cutting-edge lab in Florida. In addition, she received the UNM Environmental Emeritus Engineering Fellowship for academic excellence and spoke at a professional development workshops for the Society of Women Engineers.
When she is not in the lab, Velasco is an avid traveler – she has traveled to several countries and loves learning about other cultures. She also enjoys art, cooking, yoga, and hiking.
Burcu Beykal, Texas A&M University
Burcu Beykal, is a 5th year Ph.D. candidate and trainee at the NIEHS-funded Texas A&M University Superfund Research Program (TAMU SRP) Center. She develops computer algorithms to make data science models perform better so they can be applied to complex engineering and biomedical problems. Under the guidance of Stratos Pistikopoulos, she analyzes data for several TAMU SRP projects through the Data Science Core.
She has worked on environmental system models that predict how contaminants move in the environment. For example, after Hurricane Harvey, she used data analysis and visualization to understand how contaminants were distributed in the soil. She also develops models that group contaminants based on their characteristics to help predict whether complex environmental mixtures may disrupt the endocrine system in humans.
Beykal co-authored a publication focused on development of the TAMU SRP computational platform for data integration, visualization, and analysis. She also applies her work to several other fields and is first author on publications focused on designing energy systems using computational modeling and optimizing oil-field operations.
Beykal was recently awarded first place at the TAMU INFORMS Python Competition for her proficiency in the Python Programming Language and second place in the oral presentation category at the TAMU Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association Symposium.
Beykal is involved in several student organizations, including the TAMU Energy Research Society and the INFORMS TAMU student chapter, for students interested in the field of operations research and management sciences. She is also a journal reviewer for Computers & Chemical Engineering, Journal of Global Optimization, Computational Geosciences, and International Journal of Electrical Power & Energy Systems. Beyond her academic work, she enjoys live music, playing the guitar, and watching sports.
Joshua Preston, University of Kentucky
University of Kentucky (UK) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center trainee Joshua Preston is an undergraduate senior working under the guidance of Kevin Pearson, Ph.D. With the SRP team, Preston is exploring how exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) during and around pregnancy impacts offspring later in development. In particular, Preston explores how PCB exposure influences how genes are expressed in mice and how that may disrupt normal metabolic function and alter body composition. This information will be useful to understand the underlying mechanisms of how PCBs impact the body during development, which may open the door for targeted interventions to improve health.
"My Superfund-related work is important and exciting to me because I feel like I get to contribute to the health and safety of the people in my home state and region," said Preston.
Preston recently received several prestigious awards, including the Astronaut Scholarship, the UK Donovan Scholarship in Gerontology, the UK Oswald Research and Creativity Competition, and the UK Bucks for Brains summer research program grant. These awards recognize Preston's research accomplishments, academic performance, and desire to pursue a scientific career. In particular, his Oswald Research and Creativity award was based on his project titled, "Maternal Nicotine Exposure Prior to and During Pregnancy and Nursing Increases Offspring Obesity Risk," which was chosen for its originality, clarity of expression, scholarly contribution, validity, scope, and depth.
Preston also completed a summer internship in biomedical research at the National Institute on Aging, where he learned advanced molecular and cellular techniques under the mentorship of Rafael de Cabo, Ph.D.
Preston has been a trainee at the UK SRP Center for the last three years and is applying for a dual M.D.-Ph.D. program. Outside of the lab, Preston enjoys rock climbing with his wife and playing bluegrass music. He is also very involved with his church and local community, including volunteering at several retirement homes.
"My experience with the UK SRP helped establish my future career as a physician-scientist because it fostered my genuine passion for toxicology and biomedical research," noted Preston.
Britton Goodale, Dartmouth College
Britton Goodale, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at Dartmouth College under the guidance of Bruce Stanton, Ph.D. Goodale's SRP research focuses on how low-dose arsenic exposure affects the ability of human airway cells to respond to bacterial infections.
Arsenic in drinking water is associated with increased risk of respiratory infection and disease, but the biological effects of arsenic exposures that occur from contaminated food and drinking water are not well understood. As part of the Dartmouth Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center, Goodale is investigating how exposure to low-dose organic and inorganic arsenic affects the ability of human lung cells to respond to the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
She recently found that airway epithelial cells exposed to arsenic had decreased expression of host defense genes and secreted less of the antimicrobial protein lysozyme. Because airway epithelial cells provide an important first defense against invading pathogens, this decreased antimicrobial activity at the airway surface helps explain how arsenic exposure increases susceptibility to respiratory infection.
Much of Goodale's research uses bioinformatic approaches to investigate how genes, proteins, and signaling pathways are affected by different forms of arsenic in drinking water and food, and she was awarded a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) from NIEHS to investigate effects of low-dose arsenic exposure on the innate immune response in human lung cells. By combining bioinformatic data mining and analysis with laboratory studies in human cells, this research will provide new data addressing how arsenic affects innate immune pathways and may help to predict the effects of exposure to arsenic in water and food.
Goodale also participated in the Collaborative on Food with Arsenic and associated Risk and Regulation (C-FARR), organized by the Dartmouth SRP Center's Research Translation Core, which brought researchers and policy stakeholders together to synthesize current knowledge about arsenic in food and resulting human exposures. As part of this project, she co-authored a paper addressing the state of the science and gaps in knowledge about human exposures and toxicological effects of arsenic compounds in seafood.
Goodale earned her Ph.D. as part of the Oregon State University (OSU) SRP Center. At OSU, her research addressed questions about how polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a group of common air pollutants, disrupt molecular signaling pathways that are critical for normal embryonic development.
Goodale enthusiastically shares techniques that enable better visualization and interpretation of large datasets with fellow researchers, and she helps teach bioinformatics at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory. With colleagues at Dartmouth, she also recently founded a weekly lunch club to help scientists understand the process of analyzing large datasets in their research, using the R statistical computing environment.
Anne Nigra, Columbia University
Anne Nigra is a graduate student at the Columbia University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center under the guidance of Ana Navas-Acien, M.D., Ph.D. Her dissertation work focuses on drinking water arsenic exposure in the U.S. population. She is analyzing spatial patterns and temporal trends in exposure, identifying subgroups that remain susceptible to higher exposure levels, and evaluating the association with cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.
Her research interests are in the epidemiology and exposure assessment of toxic metals, national regulatory policies, and community-directed research. She is also working with community-based collaborators in the Midwest to design a pilot study to characterize mercury exposure in tribal communities using both biomonitoring and environmental monitoring.
Nigra was the lead author on a recent article on the effect of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maximum contaminant level on arsenic exposure in the USA from 2003 to 2014. Nigra and her colleagues found that exposure to arsenic in drinking water was significantly reduced among Americans using public water systems following the establishment of the EPA regulation on maximum levels of arsenic in 2006. Compliance with the regulation led to a 17 percent decline in levels of urinary arsenic and an estimated reduction of more than 200 cases of lung and bladder cancer every year.
Nigra recently received a travel award from the SRP to attend the Southeast Asia Regional Conference on Groundwater Arsenic, which will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam this November.
In her spare time, you will often find her running in one of New York City's many parks with her dog, who is an excellent motivator and training partner. She also enjoys camping and attempting annual endurance hikes with her dad to benefit conservancy programs near her hometown in Pittsburgh.
Jessica Laine, University of North Carolina
Jessica Laine, Ph.D., recently completed her doctoral degree in epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) under the mentorship of Rebecca Fry, Ph.D., and David Richardson, Ph.D. As a Superfund Research Program (SRP) trainee, Laine’s research focuses on using epidemiological methods to understand the effects and mechanisms underlying prenatal exposure to toxicants, including exposure to inorganic arsenic (iAs) in drinking water. This work includes investigating how nutritional pathways can influence metabolism of iAs – with the goal of reducing iAs-associated adverse birth outcomes.
Laine is the lead author on a recent paper identifying metabolites in umbilical cord blood that are associated with exposure to iAs in the womb. The findings pinpoint that differences in a mother’s metabolism of iAs may influence the metabolomic profile of her baby. (See Research Brief.)
In another study, Laine and her colleagues found that cadmium levels in the placenta during pregnancy are associated with the risk of developing preeclampsia. Preeclampsia complicates pregnancy, as it is one of the major causes of maternal and perinatal mortality and morbidity and may contribute to the development of later-life cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease in the child. Laine was also lead author on another study linking maternal metabolism of iAs to lower newborn birthweight and other negative birth outcomes.
Laine was a 2016 KC Donnelly recipient, where she worked with Mary Gamble, Ph.D., at the Columbia University SRP Center to expand on her research to investigate the impact of nutrients involved in one carbon metabolism on the methylation of arsenic during pregnancy and the influence of these two factors on infant birthweight. As part of the UNC SRP Center’s Research Translation Core, Laine worked closely with high school teachers to create lesson plans to explain epigenetic mechanisms of toxicants and disease and also assisted in many other science communication efforts directed at the public.
Laine has received the Early Career Research Fellowship for postdoctoral research at Imperial College London. She will begin work there this summer, continuing in environmental epidemiology with a focus on the exposome.
Laine applies her research passions outside of her work by promoting the use of health and fitness to prevent disease. She is a CrossFit competitor, long-distance cyclist, yogi, runner, and dancer, and she offers nutrition tips as a food blogger.
April Rodd, Brown University
April Rodd, Ph.D., recently completed her doctoral degree and is a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University under the guidance of Agnes Kane, Ph.D. Rodd’s research focuses on developing in vitro models to study aquatic toxicology.
Rodd is the lead author on a recent paper focusing on a new alternative toxicity testing platform targeted toward fish. Using 3-D cell culture technology developed at Brown, Rodd and her colleagues formed 3-D liver microtissues from a fish liver cell line. Compared to the 2-D monolayer cells typically used in toxicology, these microtissues live longer and are better differentiated, meaning they act more like real livers and allow them to better predict the response of fish. They used benzo(a)pyrene as a model compound to test the new model and showed that the microtissues are sensitive over multiple exposures.
According to Rodd, this shows that fish liver microtissues can be a valuable tool for evaluating environmentally relevant exposures for aquatic toxicology testing. Moving forward, they plan to use this model to study the effect of carbon nanomaterials on benzo(a)pyrene toxicity, building on a previous paper that examined the effect of carbon particles on benzene toxicity in brine shrimp.
Rodd recently presented research on determining the aquatic toxicity of carbon nanomaterials alone and in mixtures with aromatic hydrocarbons using the 3-D fish liver model at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry conference, as well as the Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization Conference. She also presented this work last September at the Society of Toxicology (Northeast Chapter) meeting and won the best student presentation award.
When she is not in the lab, Rodd likes to knit, hike, and read an inordinate number of books. As an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut, she worked in an entomology lab, and she has never shaken her love of bug hunting on nature walks.
James Sanders, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
James Sanders is a graduate student under the guidance of Upal Ghosh, Ph.D., who leads a Superfund Research Program Individual Research Project, Development of in-situ Mercury Remediation Approaches Based on Methylmercury Bioavailability, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Sanders is working to measure persistent environmental contaminants and improve our understanding of the bioavailability of these contaminants in the environment.
His dissertation work at UMBC is aimed at developing a novel passive sampling device to measure the bioavailable fraction of methylmercury in sediments. If successful, this device will provide a useful tool for risk assessors to predict uptake of methylmercury in the aquatic food chain and to monitor the efficacy of site remediation programs. He also has worked on passive sampling of other metals and of polychlorinated biphenyls at two Superfund sites and has investigated the interactions of mercury and methylmercury with activated carbon.
Sanders won second place in the environmental science and engineering category at the 2016 SRP Annual Meeting’s graduate student poster competition. He also won a second-place doctoral poster award at the 2016 Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry World Congress. In addition, he was a member of the first-place team in the Chesapeake Water and Environment Association's 2014 student design competition.
Sanders is an active participant in student government at UMBC. Outside of work, he enjoys music, literature, hiking, physical fitness, and wood carving.
Judit Marsillach Lopez, University of Washington
Former University of Washington (UW) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center trainee Judit Marsillach Lopez, Ph.D., recently joined the faculty in the Department of Medicine, Division of Medical Genetics at UW. Prior to her new position, she worked with UW SRP Center Project 3, led by Clement Furlong, Ph.D., on biomarkers of sensitivity and exposure to organophosphate (OP) insecticides. As a member of the UW faculty, she will continue her collaborative studies with Furlong and Lucio Costa, Ph.D. Her recent findings on this project suggest that exposures to the heavy metal manganese result in an increase of oxidative stress partly due to inhibition of plasma enzyme paraoxonase-1 (PON1) activity.
Marsillach Lopez received her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the Rovira i Virgili University in Spain for her studies on PON1 and its role in chronic liver disease. It was her interest in this enzyme that led Marsillach Lopez to pursue her postdoctoral studies in Seattle to work with Furlong.
As part of her UW SRP Center research, she developed a new approach for identifying and characterizing an individual's exposure to organophosphorus compounds through the innovative use of mass spectrometry to analyze protein modifications (OP-adducted enzymes). This new method provides a very accurate determination of the percentage modification of the OP-adducted biomarker protein with a single blood draw, offering a much more accurate analysis than the existing two blood draws enzymatic protocol. In addition, she can apply this protocol to samples collected as dried blood spots, which will greatly improve the collection, shipment, and storage of these samples.
Earlier this year, Marsillach Lopez received a Scientist Development Grant from the American Heart Association to study plasma PON1 as an early biomarker of cardiovascular disease. She is combining her expertise in paraoxonases, oxidative stress, biomarker discovery, and proteomics to better understand the role of PON1 in preventing cardiovascular disease. Her previous research, along with that of others, has shown that low levels of PON1 are a risk factor for a variety of oxidative stress-related diseases. To learn more, see two recent reviews by Marsillach Lopez and her colleagues on PON1 and early-life exposures and the functions of PON1 and related enzymes. Marsillach Lopez also has received an R56 grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to study the mechanism of detoxification of homocysteine thiolactone, a risk factor for cardiovascular and neurological diseases, generated by high levels of homocysteine in plasma.
When she is not in the lab, she enjoys traveling, photography, rock climbing with her husband, and playing with her one-year-old puppy.
Kimberly Danny, University of Arizona
Kimberly Danny is a Ph.D. student and part of the University of Arizona Superfund Research Program (UA SRP) Center under the guidance of Mark Brusseau, Ph.D. Her research focuses on understanding how physical and chemical factors work together to immobilize uranium at a Superfund site. She also is working with the UA SRP Center's Community Engagement Core to teach tribal communities about mining reclamation.
At the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) Superfund site, Danny is evaluating 15 years of hydrogeologic and chemical data to understand better the processes that are immobilizing depleted uranium at the site. To test the hypothesis that chemical processes, such as adsorption to aluminum and iron oxy(hydroxide) surfaces, are immobilizing the uranium in groundwater, she is evaluating data, creating a site conceptual model, analyzing bedrock cores from the lab, and constructing site-representative chemical equilibrium, kinetic, and transport models. The resulting multicomponent reactive transport model will serve as a framework that LLNL can modify as more data become available or that can be applied to other sites.
In addition to her research, Danny also is doing community outreach and engagement work with the UA SRP Center's Community Engagement Core leader, Karletta Chief, Ph.D., to increase tribal community knowledge on mining reclamation. She is developing an educational module that introduces reclamation of waste rock and mine waste. The modules target tribal community college audiences and can be modified by instructors. Because a number of mines in the western United States are located on tribal lands, the UA SRP Center is working to ensure that tribal members have a fundamental understanding of mining processes and potential impacts so they can ask critical questions of mining companies and federal, state, and tribal government agencies.
Danny has been a very active member of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society since 2007. Through the Society, she has had the opportunity to network with other Native Americans in science and engineering around the country. She is also a Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership Scholar. Through this program, she was awarded a competitive fellowship that provides tutoring, funding, and mentoring to ensure the success of Native American graduate students.
When she is not working on her research, Danny loves to take road trips to state and national parks. She also enjoys making cards and doing memory keeping, a form of scrapbooking. She also likes to sew and has made several full-sized quilts.
Lindsey Butler, Boston University
Lindsey Butler is a Boston University (BU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) trainee in the department of environmental health. She is a Ph.D. student under the guidance of Ann Aschengrau, Sc.D., and Patricia Janulewicz, Sc.D., a previous BU Superfund trainee. Butler works on the BU Children's Health Study to assess prenatal exposure to tetrachloroethylene (PCE)-contaminated drinking water in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
From 1968 to 1990, families across New England were exposed to PCE when it leached into their drinking water from the vinyl lining of asbestos cement water distribution pipes. Animal and human studies have found that prenatal exposure to PCE, the related solvent trichloroethylene (TCE), and their metabolite trichloroacetic acid (TCA) increases the risk of birth defects and stillbirths. As part of the BU Children's Health Study, Butler and colleagues are identifying historical locations of vinyl-lined asbestos cement water pipes and investigating the relationship between exposure to PCE and several types of birth defects and stillbirths.
This year, Butler and her advisor, Aschengrau, were featured in a Boston Museum of Science podcast that explored their work to assess prenatal exposure to drinking water contaminated by PCE. She also participated in a mini-symposium sponsored by BU SRP, titled "Preventing the Next Flint." At the symposium, researchers and partners focused on water safety and reflected on how water safety can go wrong scientifically, politically, and socially. Following the event, Butler and her research were featured in a BU School of Public Health story. She recently published a discussion piece in the journal Environmental Justice on the role of regulatory failure and environmental injustice in the Flint water crisis. In addition to her drinking water studies, she works to help her colleagues in other disciplines apply environmental health exposure assessment techniques to answer other complex public health questions, a task about which she is very passionate.
As a master's student, Lindsey served for two years as a Mentor Scientist at the Science Club for Girls, a Boston-area non-profit aimed at promoting scientific literacy and sisterhood in young women in underserved communities. When she is not teaching and conducting her research, she enjoys yoga, paddle boarding, and walking her two German Shepherds, Rocky and Lola.
Piers MacNaughton, Harvard School of Public Health
Piers MacNaughton is a doctoral student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He is part of the SRP Occupational and Safety Training Education Program on Emerging Technologies (R25) at Harvard: Safety and Health Management of Hazards Associated with Emerging Technologies.
MacNaughton's graduate work focuses on the impact of green buildings on cognitive function and health. Increased environmental awareness spurred the green building movement with the goal of encouraging more sustainable buildings. However, the question remains as to whether green buildings are also healthy buildings. The objective of MacNaughton's work is to investigate the impact of green buildings on health and cognitive function in both laboratory and real-world settings and to quantify these impacts in comparison to the potential environmental and economic costs.
In his recent paper in Building and Environment, he reports that participants in green buildings experience better indoor air quality and improved environmental perceptions. They also indicate fewer instances of ill health than those in conventional buildings. These findings suggest that occupant health in green and conventional buildings is driven by both environmental perceptions and physiological pathways. In another paper in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, he reports that the health benefits associated with enhanced ventilation rates in buildings far exceed the per-person energy costs relative to salary costs. Environmental impacts can be mitigated at regional, building, and individual-level scales through the transition to renewable energy sources, adoption of energy-efficient systems and ventilation strategies, and promotion of other sustainable policies.
When he is not working on his dissertation, MacNaughton is often playing ultimate frisbee. He plays for a professional team called the Boston Whitecaps, as well as a club team called Boston Ironside. Each summer, his research group also gets together for a friendly game of ultimate.
Kelly Ferguson, University of Michigan
Kelly Ferguson, Ph.D., wrapped up her time as a trainee with the Northeastern University Superfund Research Program Center, Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT), to begin a position as a tenure-track researcher in the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch. Ferguson is now the head of the Perinatal and Early Life Epidemiology Group and studies how a mother's exposure to chemicals impacts her pregnancy and the development of her child.
Before joining NIEHS, Ferguson was a doctoral student and then a postdoctoral researcher under the guidance of John Meeker, Sc.D., at the University of Michigan. As part of the PROTECT Center, Meeker leads a molecular epidemiology study on phthalate exposure and preterm birth in Puerto Rico. As part of the project, Ferguson found associations between maternal biomarkers of phthalate exposure and oxidative stress and inflammation in pregnant women. In another study, she also found that maternal oxidative stress may be an important contributor to preterm birth.
At NIEHS, Ferguson continues to study how chemical exposure can affect pregnancy outcomes. Some of her current work includes how a mother's exposure to chemicals found in plastics and personal care products, such as perfumes, deodorants, and shampoos, affects her pregnancy. Effects include an increased number of pregnancy complications and changes in delivery date and fetal development, among others (see a recent NIEHS Environmental Factor story for more information).
During her time as an SRP trainee, she went beyond her research by bringing her work to stakeholders and learning about environmental decision making. For example, she participated in the Reach the Decision Makers Fellowship last year as part of the University of California, San Francisco Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment. As the culmination of this fellowship, Ferguson traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with key policymakers at the EPA. Following the release of the proposed National Ambient Air Quality Standards rule on ozone, Ferguson and her group submitted comments advocating for the inclusion of pregnant women and communities with multiple risk factors as vulnerable populations (see a past SRP news story to read more).
When she is not in the lab, Ferguson enjoys doing anything outdoors, including swimming, hiking, camping, running, and cross-country skiing. She also plays violin and piano and is learning the guitar.
Caitlin Howe, Columbia University
Caitlin Howe is a doctoral student under the guidance of Columbia University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center researcher Mary Gamble, Ph.D. She is working to understand better how one-carbon metabolism, a biochemical pathway with many nutritional influences, affects arsenic toxicity through two potential mechanisms: (1) facilitating arsenic metabolism and (2) protecting against arsenic-induced epigenetic dysregulation.
Howe is examining whether arsenic metabolism is modified by two B vitamins, folate and cobalamin, involved in the synthesis of S-Adenosyl methionine (SAM), a naturally occurring compound in the body and product of one-carbon metabolism. Using samples from the Folate and Oxidative Stress Study, a cross-sectional study of arsenic-exposed Bangladeshi adults, she observed that among individuals deficient for both folate and cobalamin, SAM was associated with a higher proportion of monomethyl arsenic and with a lower proportion of dimethyl arsenic in blood. This suggests that when nutritional methyl groups are limiting, complete methylation of inorganic arsenic is impaired. Thus, individuals with deficiencies in these B vitamins may be more susceptible to arsenic toxicity (see her paper for more). She is also investigating how arsenic and one-carbon metabolism influence post-translational histone modifications.
In July 2015, Howe received an F31 Fellowship from NIEHS to support training and research related to influences of arsenic and folate on histone methylation marks for her dissertation project. Last year, she won first prize for her poster at the 10th International Conference on One Carbon Metabolism, B vitamins and Homocysteine, held at the Medical School of the University of Lorraine in Nancy, France. She also won a first place poster award at the 2012 SRP Annual Meeting.
Howe is originally from New Hampshire but moved to Southern California to attend Pomona College, where she studied biology and Spanish. Growing up in New Hampshire and spending time in Southern California, she developed a love for the outdoors. Now that she lives in New York, she spends more time taking advantage of the museums and great food but still goes hiking when she can! She also enjoys playing tennis.
Senthilkumar Perumal Kuppusamy, University of Iowa
Senthilkumar Perumal Kuppusamy, who earned his doctorate in 2012 under the guidance of Gabriele Ludewig, is a graduate of the University of Iowa Superfund Research Program. During his time at Iowa, he investigated the effects of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on telomeres, which are stretches of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that provide stability to DNA and make it possible for cells to divide.
At Iowa, Kuppusamy observed that telomeres become shorter in cells treated with PCBs, which may result in premature aging and an increased risk of cancer. Every time normal human cells divide, their telomeres become shorter. When telomeres get too short, the cell can no longer divide and becomes inactive or dies, a process associated with aging and cancer. This is the first study to show that exposure to PCBs is associated with shortened telomeres. The experiments were designed to simulate long-term potential human exposures and the synthetic mixture of PCBs that Kuppusamy used resembles the PCBs in Chicago air.
Kuppusamy’s work on telomere regulation by PCBs has since been cited in the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) monographs on PCBs, Volume 107. His research was used to demonstrate cellular mechanisms, specifically genotoxicity, relevant to PCBs induced carcinogenesis and conclude that PCBs are carcinogenic to humans (Group 1) by IARC.
In May 2015, Kuppusamy joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a toxicologist. His primary responsibility is to perform human health risk assessments for occupational and environmental chemicals. He is applying the knowledge and skills that he obtained at the University of Iowa to make scientifically-based statements about the dangers of compounds humans may be exposed to. Previously, he worked at the EPA, where he performed similar risk assessments for various environmental pollutants. He is also certified as a Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology (DABT).
Outside of his work, Kuppusamy enjoys watching and playing sports and spending time with his family.
Daniel Gusenleitner, Boston University SRP Center
Daniel Gusenleitner is helping us better understand cancer, from prevention to treatment, by using algorithms to model the behavior of cells or tissues after they have been exposed to all sorts of chemicals. He looks for differences between chemicals that can cause cancer and safe compounds. Gusenleitner is a doctoral student at the Boston University Superfund Research (Boston SRP) Center under the guidance of Stefano Monti, Ph.D.
As part of his research, Gusenleitner is using these models to identify potential carcinogens, but also to learn about underlying molecular mechanisms that can be responsible for cancer development. Using a large-scale dataset from the National Toxicology Program, the DrugMatrix Database, Gusenleitner, with others from Monti's research group, built a model to predict whether a chemical is a carcinogen, and validated it with a dataset of information from rats treated with 72 different chemicals. In an article published in the journal PLOS One, they show that these computational models of short-term exposure to a chemical can predict long-term cancer risk (see the NIEHS Environmental Factor story for more on the study).
Outside of his SRP research, Gusenleitner is also working on cancer treatment stratification, which involves matching cancer patients with a therapy that maximizes their survival chance. Gusenleitner and his research team recently published an article in the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics that establishes a framework for classifying and stratifying certain types of tumors.
Gusenleitner hails from Austria and has lived and worked in several different countries, including Sweden, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In addition to being an avid traveler, he has a passion for cooking and baking, and is known for keeping up the spirit in his lab by bringing in his delicious, homemade apple strudel!
Megan Creighton, Brown University SRP
Megan Creighton’s doctoral work explores the relationship between the risk of exposure to nanomaterials and material properties. She seeks new ways to intelligently design nanomaterials for both function and safety. Under the guidance of Robert Hurt, Ph.D. at the Brown University Superfund Research Program (Brown SRP), Creighton focuses on potential applications for graphene-family nanomaterials (GFNs).
Creighton investigates how the particle size and geometry of GFNs affects their interaction with cells and movement through a body upon exposure. Understanding the influences on material interactions with their surroundings will eventually lead to more accurate information for environmental decision-making, allowing for the safe and sustainable development of GFN-based technologies.
With six peer-reviewed publications, Creighton's most recent publication in Environmental Science & Technology explores the use of surface-engineered, nanoparticle-based dispersants for marine oil spills. The study, an interdisciplinary effort with a Brown SRP research group led by Agnes Kane, M.D., Ph.D., focused on designing and evaluating a new class of high-efficiency, low-toxicity, particle-based alternative dispersants to replace the synthetic chemicals currently deployed.
For her innovative research, Creighton received a prestigious U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results (EPA STAR) award in 2013. She also has four best paper and best poster awards. She won first place at the Carbon Nanomaterials Graduate Student Award session at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers annual meeting for her work on the barrier properties of GFNs in liquid systems.
When she isn't in the lab, Megan likes to be outdoors, especially skiing and fly-fishing. She also enjoys reading, baking, and drinking coffee.
Thomas Bruton, University of California, Berkeley SRP
Thomas Bruton is finding innovative ways to clean up contaminants in groundwater through his work as a doctoral student in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California (UC) Berkeley. Under the guidance of David Sedlak, Ph.D., Bruton's research focuses on the use of persulfate as a chemical remediation agent for contaminants in groundwater.
He began his doctoral work investigating persulfate treatment as way to clean up contaminated aquifers. The treatment typically involves injection of other chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide or chelated iron, to activate the persulfate. Bruton and others in his research team showed that the addition of these activator chemicals may be unnecessary because persulfate can be activated by naturally-occurring iron and manganese-containing minerals in an aquifer. This finding could lead to persulfate treatment that is more efficient and less costly. The first of two papers on this subject was recently published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
In the next phase of his research, Bruton is investigating whether chemical oxidants like persulfate can be used effectively to treat contaminants that are present in groundwater due to improper disposal of fire-fighting foams.
Before attending UC Berkeley, Bruton received a National Science Foundation fellowship to work with SRP grantee Rolf Halden at Arizona State University, where he completed a master's degree and co-wrote a review on the Effect of Nanoscale Zero-Valent Iron Treatment on Biological Reductive Dechlorination.
When he is not in the lab, Bruton takes advantage of the great outdoors in northern California. He is an avid runner and hiker, and is learning to surf. The photo shows Bruton in Yosemite National Park.
Li Xiao, University of Kentucky SRP
Li Xiao, Ph.D., made extraordinary advances in how synthetic membranes can be used for water treatment during her graduate work at the University of Kentucky Superfund Research Program (Kentucky SRP). Her engineering research integrates nanotechnology and membrane systems to detoxify water through the use of non-toxic nanoparticles and green chemistry approaches.
Under the guidance of Dibakar Bhattacharyya, Ph.D., Xiao developed an innovative way to filter from water chlorinated organic contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and trichloroethylene (TCE), degrading these chemicals to nontoxic products during the process.
In 2014, Xiao received the highly competitive American Institute of Chemical Engineers Separations Division Graduate Student Research Award, and she was earlier recognized as an Outstanding Graduate Student from the University of Kentucky Chemical and Materials Engineering department.
Also accomplished in scientific publishing, Xiao is first-author for two papers, one in the Journal of Applied Polymer Science and the other in the Journal of Membrane Science, and she wrote two book chapters about advanced responsive membrane technology to remove toxic contaminants from water.
With Bhattacharyya, she has a patent on a water purification device and method to decontaminate water using temperature responsive membranes. The patent was licensed by Ultura Inc., a company in California that specializes in high recovery membrane technology. She recently accepted a position at Ultura Inc. as a research and development scientist and will continue to advance functionalized membrane-related applications in water treatment and other environmental fields.
When she isn't in the lab, Xiao enjoys baking and gardening.
Leslie Knecht is committed to improving how we detect contaminants in the environment and strives to help other students achieve in science as a mentor. Knecht is a Ph.D. student at the University of Miami working with Superfund Research Program (SRP) investigator Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., as part of the University of Kentucky SRP.
Detecting environmental contaminants in the field helps scientists and others working on hazardous waste sites know what hazardous chemicals are present without having to send samples back to a lab for processing. Remote site detection requires sensors to be selective, sensitive, rugged, and amenable for use by untrained personnel. Knecht has developed cell-based sensors encapsulated within Bacillus subtilis spores to detect environmental contaminants. These spores are able to withstand harsh environmental conditions which make them ideal whole-cell biosensors for field work
To make the spores more portable, Knecht used filter paper-based platforms on which detection of a target contaminant in environmental samples can be performed. The paper-based platform is inexpensive and simple to design, making it useful for a variety of applications. Specifically, she has used B. subtilis cells to detect arsenic and organoarsenicals on paper-based platforms.
Knecht has received numerous fellowships including a National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship. She was also the recipient of the 2014 University of Miami Graduate Student Exemplar Award.
In her spare time, Knecht enjoys reading, running, and spending time with her husband and son. Knecht has also overcome a number of challenges, including a stroke her first semester of graduate school, and strives to help others through community service, which was highlighted on the NSF Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship website. For more on Knecht’s story, passion, and challenges, check out the LabTV short video showcasing Knecht. The video won the “Outstanding Role Model Award” at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Birgit Claus Henn, Ph.D.
Birgit Claus Henn, Ph.D., is a mom on a mission to understand how metals, such as lead, arsenic, and manganese, can affect birth weight, length of pregnancy, and child cognition and motor development. Claus Henn went from being a Harvard School of Public Health Superfund Research Program (SRP) trainee to a Research Associate in the Harvard SRP. She was a postdoctoral fellow with the Harvard SRP Center since the fall of 2010 until October of 2013, when she was awarded an NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00) to examine metal mixtures, sensitive developmental windows, and children’s neurodevelopment. Claus Henn now continues her work with Harvard SRP to explore exposures to pollutants in the environment, mainly metals, and their impact on children’s health.
Claus Henn is working to answer critical questions about children’s health, all while balancing being a mom to two young girls. She understands the importance of putting research studies into a real life context. This is why she has expanded her research to study the relationships of chemical mixtures, rather than individual chemicals, on the body. Humans do not live in a laboratory, exposed to one chemical at a time, but rather are exposed to multiple chemicals on a daily basis. Therefore, looking at the overall effects of multiple exposures creates a more realistic and holistic picture of these interactions.
Claus Henn’s research is focused on implementing novel statistical tools to make sense of the relationship between mixtures of four or five metals with neurodevelopmental outcomes. She also plans to partner directly with metals toxicologists in the hope of understanding how epidemiologic and toxicologic data can complement one another to better understand effects of combinations of metals.
Claus Henn published a review in the journal Current Opinion in Pediatrics summarizing the recent literature examining chemical mixtures and pediatric health outcomes, with an emphasis on metal mixtures. She was also awarded the 2014 Michael Shannon Research Award by the Academic Pediatric Association.
When Claus Henn is not at work, she’s spending time outdoors with her family. She has even run up Mt. Washington, which is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States, with an elevation of 6,288 feet and a 19% maximum grade.
Nour Abdo wants to understand how to harness the power of the human genome to better understand how chemicals in the environment affect human health. Abdo is a toxicology Ph.D. student with Ivan Rusyn, Ph.D., at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Superfund Research Program (SRP).
Abdo uses a high-throughput model based on the human population to screen for chemical toxicity. Through her research, she is assessing the validity of using a population human model system to assess chemical toxicity. She is also identifying genes that may be related to chemical susceptibility.
Abdo is evaluating the differences in susceptibility between different people in response to chemical exposure across genetically diverse populations using a high throughput large scale in-vitro model. In December, Abdo gave a presentation at NIEHS on the high-throughput in vitro model she is working with, the 1000 Genomes Toxicity Screening Project. The effort is conducted in collaboration with UNC biostatisticians and with researchers at NIEHS and N.C. State University. The 1000 Genomes-based in vitro screening model offers exceptional opportunities for identifying variations in response to environmental chemicals at the DNA sequence level, enhancing high-throughput risk assessments by establishing population-based confidence intervals in toxicity, and establishing potential modes of action for environmental compounds.
Abdo, a Jordan native, received her Bachelors of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery (equivalent to a D.V.M.) in Irbid, Jordan. She also received a Masters of Public Health from New Mexico State University before she began her Ph.D. at UNC. Abdo has also won a number of awards during her time at UNC, including first place for her poster at the 2013 North Carolina Society of Toxicology meeting. In her spare time, Abdo enjoys traveling and exploring new sights.
Andy Larkin is not only doing great work to understand how pollutants in the atmosphere affect human health, he is also committed to presenting his findings to the general public. Larkin is a Ph.D. student working with Oregon State University (OSU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) investigators David Williams, Ph.D., and William Baird, Ph.D.
His Ph.D. research involves several different projects, all of which are designed to bridge the gap between basic air pollution modeling research and assessing and reducing risk from air pollution. Larkin is working on computational modeling for predicting biological responses to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) mixtures, hazardous chemicals that are often detected in the air, real time forecasts of atmospheric particulate matter, and ozone for the state of Oregon. He is also developing smartphone programs to predict and prevent atmospheric pollutant exposures.
While he has won an impressive seven awards as a graduate student, he was most proud of winning second place in the Oregon State three-minute thesis competition. Although not the most prestigious of his awards, Larkin explains that, “Creating a summary of a thesis designed to be understood by the public and less than three minutes in length was by far the most challenging presentation of my graduate studies, and it was thoroughly rewarding to have so many members of the general public understand and enjoy the presentation.”
Larkin gave a presentation on atmospheric pollutant models and smartphones in a 2013 Risk e Learning webinar in the series on using Geographic Information System (GIS) tools to analyze, computer, and predict pollution. See the EPA Clean-up Information webpage for an archive of the webinar.
After Larkin finishes his Ph.D., he hopes to work for a research group or regulatory agency to develop technologies for reporting real-time risk assessment and risk communication information to help to prevent unwanted exposures in sensitive populations. When he isn’t busy working on his graduate research, he enjoys community volunteer work and ultramarathon running. Larkin ran the Portland Marathon on October 6, 2013 and an ultramarathon in the Florida Keys 100 mile run in May, 2014.
Superfund Research Program
Oleksii Motorykin, a Superfund Research Program (SRP) trainee at Oregon State University (OSU), found for the first time that lung cancer deaths are linked to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) emissions that pollute the air, independent of cigarette smoke. As a result of his hard work and discoveries, Motorykin received two prestigious awards from the Division of Environmental Chemistry of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in 2013.
Motorykin received a 2013 Graduate Student Award in Environmental Chemistry. The ACS Division of Environmental Chemistry sponsors up to 25 annual awards to full-time graduate students based upon students’ records in course work, evidence of research productivity, and on statements from graduate faculty advisers.
He also won a 2013 Graduate Student Paper Award for an article about his findings that will soon appear in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. This is the highest award given by the ACS Division of Environmental Chemistry to its student members.
Motorykin investigated the relationship between lung cancer mortality rates, carcinogenic PAH emissions, and smoking on a global scale. He also assessed the contribution of carcinogenic PAH emissions to lung cancer mortality rates for countries with different socioeconomic groupings. He found a positive association between lung cancer deaths and PAH emissions, independent of smoking prevalence, for high income and for the combination of upper middle and high socioeconomic country groups. This study is the first to link PAH emissions with lung cancer on a global scale and shows the need to take air pollution into account when assessing lung cancer risks.
Motorykin is a graduate student with Staci Simonich, Ph.D., who leads an OSU SRP project to understand the composition, exposure, and mutagenicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in highly exposed populations.
University of Kentucky Ph.D. student Maggie Murphy is a Lexington native who is committed to improving our nation’s health through novel research into nutrition and toxicology.
Several mentors inspired Maggie to pursue a career in nutrition. She credits teachers in high school with igniting a love of science within her, as well as her father who showed her the importance and benefits of good health. He challenged Maggie to take up running at the age of 12, and she grew to love the sport. Maggie has been an avid runner since then, and competes in several road races each year.
Maggie attended the University of Florida, where she completed a B.S. in Nutrition. From there, she returned home to Lexington to complete a Master of Science and Dietetic Internship in order to pursue a career of a Registered Dietician. During her internship, Maggie worked with many patients suffering from diabetes mellitus (Type 2 diabetes) and heart disease. She says, "while it was satisfying to encourage these patients to adopt a healthy lifestyle, I discovered a deeper desire to research the underlying causes of these diseases at the molecular level."
While pursuing her Master’s degree, Maggie also met Dr. Bernhard Hennig. She worked as his teaching assistant, and found an interest in the field of cardiovascular research. Dr. Hennig offered her a position in his lab while she pursues a doctoral degree. She now studies the molecular mechanisms of PCB-induced toxicity in an attempt to identify novel targets that protect against chemical insult, such as green tea or engaging in lifestyle modifications such as exercise.
Recently, Maggie won the Charles River Best Poster Presentation Award for a Ph.D. student at the Ohio Valley Society of Toxicology meeting in September for her poster "Exercise decreases polychlorinated biphenyl-induced cardiovascular toxicity in mice."
Zuzana Majkova, Ph.D.
Originally from the Czech Republic, Zuzana came to the University of Kentucky in 2003 where she studied under Bernhard Hennig, Ph.D. She is now a post-doctoral trainee in the lab of Bruce Hammock, Ph.D., in the Superfund Research Program at UC-Davis, where she has just completed her first year of research.
Zuzana calls her career choice "straightforward". Her father is a science teacher and her mother works in plant protection, so she spent a lot of time outdoors while growing up. When she started her undergraduate studies, she learned of a new program in Ecotoxicology at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.
The Ecotoxicology program was progressive and diverse. Zuzana explains: "During communism, any information about environmental contamination was non-existent. After the Velvet Revolution in '89, there was a lot of interest in assessment of existing contamination and developing new legislature that would prevent exposures in the future. Our department was formed as a Research Centre for Toxic Compounds in the Environment (RECETOX)." According to Zuzana, it was "people with different background from all over the country who specialized in various aspects of environmental sciences, such as environmental analytical chemistry, biostatistics, assessment of biodiversity, various ecotoxicological tests, and human risk assessment."
Zuzana's master's thesis advisor, Miroslav Machala, Ph.D., knew Hennig from previous collaborations. He suggested that she explore the possibility of working in his lab after her graduation. She moved from the Czech Republic to Lexington, Kentucky, and after a year as a technician, joined the Toxicology program to pursue a doctoral degree.
In Hammock's lab, Zuzana is working to develop novel analytical methods to measure levels of environmental pollutants. Recently, Zuzana and the other researchers in Dr. Hammock's lab have focused on immunoassays based on camelid "nanobodies". These are small and very stable antibody fragments that can be expressed recombinantly and therefore result in more robust and cost-effective assays. Zuzana is working on assay for triclocarban (TCC), a high production volume component of personal care products and an endocrine disruptor. We are combining anti-TCC nanobodies with nanoparticles containing fluorescent lanthanide complexes to make a rapid lateral flow immunoassay.
Sarah Allan is wasting no time putting her SRP doctoral training to use in studying communities and environments impacted by toxic chemicals. She is a student in Kim Anderson's Food Safety and Environmental Stewardship Laboratory in the Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology at Oregon State University.
Sarah boasts a life-long interest in science, cultivated in part and enthusiastically supported by her parents, both high school science teachers. Initially her interest derived from a fascination with the natural world and a love of the outdoors, which later translated into a passion for protecting and preserving the ecosystems that sustain life. She studied, then later worked as a marine biologist but was drawn to environmental toxicology because of "widespread and inescapable impacts that poisoning our environment has on ecosystem and human health." Initially, Sarah found it daunting to move from observing macrofauna into analytic chemistry, but she thinks putting the chemistry and ecology/biology pieces together is important and having a background that spans multiple disciplines is valuable.
Sarah's research is made up of two interconnected components. First, she monitors organic contaminants, primarily polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), in aquatic systems using passive sampling devices (PSDs). The then uses the results of her monitoring to assess the toxicity of complex mixtures. Specifically, she uses extracts from PSDs in established toxicity models, such as the embryonic zebrafish developmental toxicity model. She is able to monitor spatial and short- and long-term temporal trends in contamination from multiple sources and tie them to toxicological responses in the fish.
This work is taking her to sites near and far. With her lab mates, Sarah monitors PAHs in both the Portland Harbor Superfund Megasite and the Gulf of Mexico, in response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. An Alaska native, Sarah recalls the impact of the Exxon Valdez spill on local communities. "The devastation was widespread and long term and yet, much like in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill, public opinion on how to respond and move forward with natural resource extraction and use in a responsible way was very divided." She feels gratified to be able to respond to the oil spill and apply her skills in a way that has the potential to have a positive impact on the outcome of a disaster that has effected many people and ecosystems. To date, she has made five trips to the Gulf Coast, and is learning about the Gulf in ways she never imagined-she is nearly resigned to the heat and humidity of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
When she finishes her Ph.D., Sarah says she is very interested in working somewhere at the junction of science and policy, perhaps with an assessment and regulatory agency or NGO. If these plans don't materialize, Sarah says she would like to spend some time as a "mountaineering guide and professional ski bum."
Dan Brown wants to understand how early-life exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) affects the development of fish. As a third year doctoral student at Duke University, under the guidance of Richard Di Giulio, Ph.D, Brown is investigating how some fish, which live on a Superfund site, have developed a resistance to the toxicant. While acute exposures have been well-studied, little is known about the subtle effects of chronic, low-level exposures.
He will use his results to study killifish living in the Elizabeth River, which runs through the Atlantic Wood Industries Superfund site and investigate the costs and benefits of the fishes’ adaptation to living in a PAH-contaminated environment. Remarkably, some of the fish in the river have developed a resistance to the acute effects of PAH exposure. Brown’s research is unique in that it introduces both behavioral and performance-based assays to better track the emergence of effects following early life exposure.
Brown received a bachelor's degree in biology from Elon University in 2009. He was inspired by his undergraduate mentor to pursue a doctorate degree. After he graduates, Brown is interested in a post-doctoral position within government or academia. Eventually he would like to teach at a small liberal arts college to encourage undergraduate research and interest in the environmental sciences.
When he’s not in the lab, Brown serves as the Community Outreach Chair on the University's Graduate and Professional Student Council (GPSC). He is also volunteering as one of the student advisors for the SRP Annual Meeting, which will be held in Raleigh, N.C., in October 2012. Finally, Brown enjoys intramural sports, specifically basketball, soccer, and volleyball.
Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) Superfund Research Program (SRP) postdoctoral researcher Seunggeun Lee, Ph.D., will soon be an established independent researcher, after receiving an NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00).
Lee currently works with David Christiani, Ph.D., who leads an HSPH SRP project to analyze genome-wide association data to find genetic variants that interact with neurotoxic metals such as lead, arsenic, and manganese. Identifying these variants will increase understanding of neurotoxic metal effects on biological processes, and thus help find better ways to protect children from toxic metals.
In June 2012, Lee received a K99/R00 Award from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). In his grant, he proposes to develop computational methods to analyze rare variants in sequencing data. These statistical methods for genetic data analysis will support research to find genetic basis of complex diseases.
“The Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) is a truly remarkable technology and is revolutionizing the landscape of medical and human genetics,” said Lee. “However, NGS produces enormous sizes of data, and the main challenge is to find genetic variants associated with complex diseases in such large datasets.” Lee proposes to use kernel regression approach for rare variants analysis, and will extend this framework for more complex study designs.
“SRP has provided me a great opportunity to analyze real data, and has motivated me to develop novel methods to unravel genetic effects and gene-by-environment interaction effects on complex traits,” said Lee. “These experiences helped me prepare to write my own grant.”
A fifth-year student in the Pathology Graduate Program at Brown University, Sara. Pacheco is a student leader with growing expertise in bioinformatics. Working in Brown’s Superfund Research Program, Pacheco aims to identify sperm biomarkers of environmental chemical exposure, with the ultimate goal of improving diagnosis and management of male infertility.
In both human sperm and sperm from rat models exposed to Superfund chemicals, Pacheco performs genome-wide analyses to identify changes in sperm that are associated with low sperm motility. In 2011, she demonstrated her promise as a scientist with publication of a significant paper describing her work in the journal PLoS One.
Pacheco has an intense interest in bioinformatics and working with large datasets. In her work, she employs multiple array techniques for high-throughput screening of her samples, including DNA methylation arrays, messenger RNA arrays, and microRNA arrays.
Pacheco has mentored numerous students in the Pathobiology Graduate Program and has sought leadership positions in national societies. She is the student representative to the Council for the American Society of Andrology and participates regularly in their Women in Science events.
Superfund Research Program
For University of Arizona doctoral student Corin Hammond, environmental advocacy is in the blood. Corin grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, a town she describes as "particularly environmentally aware". She found that once she left home, she came to appreciate the community mentality that is present in Corvallis and how unique it is.
Corin attended Louisiana State University, where she became interested in chemistry and the ability humans have to affect our world. She graduated with her bachelor's degree in 2007 with Upper Division Honors. From there, Corin moved to the University of Arizona where she earned her masters' degree in inorganic chemistry.
In January 2010, Corin joined the University of Arizona SRP so she could work with Dr. Jon Chorover. She now uses her knowledge of basic science to reduce the transport of contaminants such as arsenic from mine tailings in the environment. Corin is conducting research at the Iron King Mine-Humboldt Smelter Superfund Site, which was added to the National Priorities List in 2008. She is helping to develop a cost-effective phytostabilization strategy for the iron king site. Her research group's goal is to reduce wind and water erosion of the tailings pile, thereby reducing human exposure to the metals in the tailings. This is difficult because the environment is very inhospitable to plants. Highly acidic, low organic material and high amounts of metals make it difficult for plants to grow. Corin and her fellow research help the plants by adding nutrients to the soil and irrigating it.
Corin is planning to finish her degree in December 2014.
Katryn Eske, a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY, says that she’s always had an interest in environmentally induced disease. When she was in elementary school, Katryn observed how man-made chemicals can affect human health. She also saw the contributions good nutrition made in ameliorating the condition and assisting in the recovery of her family member. These experiences cultivated an early interest in the role nutrition could play in treating environmentally induced disease.
Her interest in science led her to pursue a B.S. of Biochemistry at Messiah College in Grantham, PA, a program that integrated elements of nutrition into the core curriculum. In addition, the values emphasized at Messiah supported her growing interest in environmental justice.
Following the completion of her undergraduate education, Katryn took a break from academic study and developed her skills as a scientist while working as a technician on a pharmacogenomics project at the Medical College of Wisconsin. She then joined the laboratory of Dr. Bernhard Hennig as a Ph.D. student in the Graduate Center for Nutritional Sciences at the University of Kentucky. As part of Dr. Hennig’s lab, she is excited to study the use of omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention of polychlorinated biphenyl- induced cardiovascular disease.
After she completes her Ph.D., Katryn would like to continue to focus on prevention of environmentally induced diseases, which may include further education in public health.
Alison Cohen is committed to reducing both the environmental injustices and educational inequalities experienced by those living in disadvantaged urban communities. The Superfund Research Program at Brown University is pleased to have provided her with ample opportunity to get started.
During her career at Brown, the SRP Community Outreach Core gave Ms. Cohen a chance to:
Help the 100 households of Tiverton, RI, whose homes were built on fill contaminated with cyanide, lead, arsenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons win a law suit against the corporation that devalued and contaminated their property.
Assist in passing a bill that raised the fine for firms in violation of the RI Department of Environmental Management rules from $1,000 to $25,000 per day.
Develop a middle school curriculum called Superfund Environmental Justice Education Discovery Seminar and teach it to 75 students over 18 months.
Develop a high school and adult curriculum called Community Environmental College and pilot it.
Become the youngest member of the National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures Project, a national dialogue convened by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.
Ms. Cohen is presently in Brussels on a Fulbright Scholarship to examine the European Union's chemical regulation and understand how policymakers use environmental health science to inform their efforts. She plans on continuing in community-based environmental epidemiology at University of California-Berkeley's School of Public Health.
Elizabeth Hoover received the 2008 Switzer Fellowship Award for her exemplary leadership and supportive work related to environmental justice issues of Native American communities. One prominent contribution made by Elizabeth was her efforts to enhance community involvement with regard to environmental contamination. For her research, Elizabeth used the health research produced five to ten years ago by SUNY [Albany] researchers on the Akwesasne community. She related the health research to the residents’ perceptions of the results, and how it caused people to change their perceptions of the reservation environment, in general, and caused lifestyle changes, e.g., a cessation of gardening and fish consumption.
Since 1987, the Switzer Environmental Fellowship Program Award is given to California and New England graduate students who possess a strong commitment to solve problems that result in positive environmental change. Elizabeth’s work with Brown University’s Superfund Research Program (SRP) Community Outreach Core (COC) " University-Community Partnerships to Address Local Toxic Contamination " aims to improve environmental quality, while positively impacting Native American communities. Recipients of the Switzer Award aim to improve environmental quality, while demonstrating leadership.
Currently, Elizabeth is a Ph.D. candidate at Brown University studying Anthropology with a focus on environmental justice and health in Native American communities. For the last three years, Elizabeth has been an active research assistant to the SRP’s COC led by Dr. Phil Brown. Through her graduate research, COC involvement, and her personal ties (she is of Mohawk descent), Elizabeth’s interests, along with Dr. Brown’s interdisciplinary work, led to her involvement with the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island (EJLRI) . Her research experience continues to give her a substantial insight into environmental justice issues in Native and rural American communities, which contribute to her understanding of urban issues.
Elizabeth’s interest in environmentally contaminated communities allowed her to become involved in a mix of state and federal agencies, such as the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and local community groups, such as the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council (WRWC) and the Environmental Neighborhood Awareness Committee of Tiverton [Rhode Island] (ENACT). As a result of her vast interests and agency involvement, Elizabeth was inducted into the 2008 Environmental Leadership Program’s (ELP) New England Fellowship, a year-long program that offers the environmental field’s ‘most-promising emerging practitioners’ to become involved in “unique networking opportunities, leadership and skills training, support, and time for personal and professional reflection.”
Both the Switzer and ELP Fellowships give Elizabeth the opportunity to collaborate with other regional environmentalists. The ELP Fellowship continues to connect her with Fellows who have similar and/or overlapping interests. In the fall, Elizabeth will continue her research with the Akwesasne.
With an intended graduation date of May 2009, Elizabeth plans to apply for Postdocs and teaching jobs. Her goal: “to educate students and community leaders on the importance of community involvement in environmental clean-up and restoration, and keep academic work relevant to the people on which it is often based.”
Brad is very active in the University of Kentucky program; he recently served as the Student Ambassador for the 2011 SRP Annual Meeting in Lexington, KY. Brad is especially interested in applied sciences and science policy, and he sees environmental science as a practical place to focus his attention. According to him, scientific advances that tackle environmental issues can be directly applied to communities that can benefit from the research.
A native of Chillicothe, OH, Brad graduated cum laude from Asbury University with a degree in Biochemistry. After a brief stint as a research technician working in industry, he continued on to the University of Kentucky, where he is researching biomaterials chemistry under the guidance of Drs. Leonidas Bachas and Bernhard Hennig. Brad spends a lot of his time finding ways to improve his community. These activities range far and wide, from coordinating renovation projects for the Salvation Army to mentoring students of any age to providing humanitarian aid in Swaziland.
He says that his time volunteering in Africa strengthened his commitment to work in the environmental sciences because he lived in a community where water was unsafe to drink and a prime factor in child mortality rates. While there, he directed the construction of an underground spring water collection system to supply the city with a reliable source of drinking water. Brad says that this directly affected his research focus. "Since returning to grad school, my research focus has evolved from looking at the toxicological implications of organic pollutants and nanomaterials to the creation of novel, yet simple, systems that use nanomaterials for removal of contaminants in water supplies."
Courtney Kozul Horvath, Ph.D.
Courtney Kozul Horvath is a superb example of the caliber of student researchers being trained by the Superfund Research Program. Courtney’s work in low-dose arsenic exposure has earned her recognition and attention from both the scientific community and mainstream media.
A research career was not always in Courtney’s plans. She comes from a family of professional ballet dancers and spent her high school years training to become a ballerina at one of the world’s most prestigious professional dance academies. Then, while transitioning from student to professional dancer, Courtney sustained an injury. During her rehabilitation, she decided to enroll in college to explore a little more of the life she had given up to pursue her goal. She fell in love with science and hasn’t looked back since. When asked about that time, she says that her life experiences taught her just what can be achieved through hard work and perseverance.
Hard work and perseverance have served Courtney in good stead. She graduated in 2006 as valedictorian of Regis College with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. While a student at Regis, Courtney conducted independent research and worked as an intern at Genzyme. She credits these experiences with piquing her interest in basic and applied research and prompting her decision to pursue a graduate degree. In 2006, she joined the Molecular Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutics group at Dartmouth Medical School to study the toxic effects of chronic low dose environmental exposure to arsenic in drinking water--at or below 10 parts per billion (ppb), the current EPA standard for drinking water.
In order to gain a clear understanding of the changes small doses of a toxin will cause, Courtney needed to know the baseline exposure levels of arsenic the mice in her experiment experienced. She discovered that the standard mouse feed used in laboratory settings contained 390 ppb of total arsenic, 39 times the current exposure limit for drinking water. This prompted the research group to switch to purified mouse food, and the results of her research gained mainstream attention when they were featured in the March 2009 edition of The Scientist magazine.
After determining baseline exposure of the mice in her study, Courtney explored the effects of arsenic on the immune system. She found that chronic low dose exposure to arsenic led to a significantly altered cytokine production in the lung. This result was unexpected as the arsenic was ingested by the mice, and the usual exposure route for lung damage is inhalation. These results have led to further investigation of the effects of ingested arsenic on the lungs.
Courtney’s work has garnered a number of regional, national, and international awards. Beyond the media attention from the mouse feed studies, she received "Best Student Poster" awards at the SRP Annual Meetings in 2007 and 2008, and Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Student Poster Awards from the New England Membrane Enzymology Group in 2007 and 2008. The Society of Toxicology awarded Courtney a Graduate Student Research Award Honorable Mention in 2008 and four research awards and scholarships in 2009. Courtney was also honored with an "Outstanding Oral Presentation" award and travel scholarship at the International Central and Eastern European Conference on Health and the Environment in 2008.
Courtney completed her Ph.D. in December 2009. In 2010, she was awarded a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service F32 Award to study the immunotoxic effects of developmental arsenic exposure in the Department of Immunology at Dartmouth Medical School.
Kathleen McCarty, Ph.D.
Dr. Kathleen M. McCarty, an SRP trainee from 2002-2005, is an environmental/molecular epidemiologist at Yale University. She received her Doctor of Science degree (ScD) from the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Her dissertation research, a component of Dr. David C. Christiani's SRP-funded research project, "Arsenic and Health in Taiwan and Bangladesh", focused on whether environmental co-exposures and host factors affected arsenic biomarker response and/or susceptibility to arsenic-related skin lesions in Bangladesh. This work resulted in five peer-reviewed first author publications.
Upon completion of her graduate studies, Dr. McCarty conducted postdoctoral research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Department of Epidemiology, under the mentorship of Dr. Marilie D. Gammon. While at UNC, Dr. McCarty researched environmental and genetic factors that influence biomarker response and susceptibility to breast cancer. Her research used data from the Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project , which helped her investigate how polymorphisms in metabolic pathways modified the association between polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon(PAH) exposure and breast cancer risk, as well as PAH-DNA adduct biomarker response.
Dr. McCarty credits SRP for her many collaborative research opportunities. In 2004, she received an award to present her research to international colleagues at the Central & Eastern European Conference on Health and the Environment (CEECHE) in Prague, a meeting co-sponsored by the SRP. The meeting helped Dr. McCarty establish professional relationships with SRP students and investigators, such as Dr. Eugen Gurzau (Babes Bolyaii University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania). The pair continues collaborative efforts as they study gene-environment interactions related to arsenic exposure and skin cancer with Dr. Michael Snyder (Yale Graduate School of Arts & Sciences).
In 2006, Dr. McCarty joined the faculty of Yale with a joint appointment in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and the School of Medicine, Division of Environmental Health Sciences. As an assistant professor at Yale, Dr. McCarty continues to work with Dr. Gammon, investigating gene polymorphisms in oxidative stress pathways, PAH-DNA adducts, and breast cancer risk, in addition to building new research collaborations and relationships.
The SRP-sponsored training provided Dr. McCarty with an interdisciplinary education and research foundation that supports her career in environmental health sciences. She is appreciative of her strong scientific training, and acknowledges the SBRP program for the expanded collegial network it has provided, such networking and mentoring is invaluable for a new investigator. In that spirit, Dr. McCarty participated as a panelist at the 20th Anniversary Superfund Basic Research and Training Program Conference to discuss career paths with current SBRP students and postdoctoral trainees. Dr. McCarty also served as the USA Co-Chair for the organizing committee for the third CEECHE Conference in Romania, which was held in October 2008.
In 2009, Dr. McCarty was named Science Communication Fellow by Environmental Health Sciences, a non-profit group dedicated to science communication. She will use this opportunity to identify environmental health research results of interest to the general public and she will work to make them easily understood by those without scientific training in their background.
When it comes to telling fellow students "How I Spent My Summer," Sinnott-Armstrong, above, is sure to have one of the most interesting stories around. (Photo courtesy of Dartmouth College)
Nick Sinnott-Armstrong, a high-school student who completed a summer research project in the Dartmouth College Superfund Research Program (SRP), took first prize for his work in a programming contest at the Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference (GECCO), held July 8–12 in Montreal.
Sinnott-Armstrong worked with Casey Green and Jason Moore, Ph.D., of the NIEHS-supported Integrative Biology Core (IBC) at Dartmouth to analyze and present epidemiological data using computer technology normally found in 3-D video games. He is the first author on a newly published paper reporting on the application in health research.
An advanced Graphical Processing Unit, or GPU, runs an adaptation of another Dartmouth innovation — a machine learning algorithm called Multifactor Dimensionality Reduction (MDR) . MDR was built to detect and characterize interactions among various attributes to determine predictors of a particular outcome. It has been practically applied to the analysis of gene-environment interactions in genome-wide association studies.
The technology developed by the Core directly supports research efforts within the Dartmouth SRP. "The... GPU... reduces computational time by nearly 150-fold, compared to traditional computational methods," said Moore.