Superfund Research Program
Congratulations to the 2014 winners of the KC Donnelly Externship Award!
Andres Cardenas is a doctoral student at the Oregon State University (OSU) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center under the guidance of Molly Kile, ScD. Cardenas will conduct an eight week externship at the Dartmouth SRP Center with Margaret Karagas, Ph.D., and Carmen Marsit, Ph.D., who are working with a birth cohort in New Hampshire to evaluate prenatal effects of metal mixtures.
Cardenas will apply and validate newly developed methods in environmental and molecular epidemiology research to adjust for cellular heterogeneity when measuring DNA methylation extracted from whole blood and other tissues. He will also apply this new biostatistical method to measure specific cell types in blood. Although the primary focus of the externship will be on metals, the method can be applied to ongoing work at the OSU SRP, which involves determining the health effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) mixtures.
“The externship with Dr. Karagas and Dr. Marsit will enable me to access vital resources, such as the unique birth cohort in New Hampshire and the extensive expertise of this team,” said Cardenas. “Working with this highly dynamic group of diverse scientists and students at the Dartmouth SRP will enrich my personal and academic growth and leave a lasting mark on my career.”
Andrea Gonzalez is a masters student at the University of Puerto Rico Graduate School of Public Health (part of the Northeastern University SRP Center), under the guidance of Jose Cordero, Ph.D. She will be conducting a 12 week externship at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, with Victor De Jesus, Ph.D., the Chief of the Biochemical Mass Spectrometry Laboratory within the Newborn Screening and Molecular Biology Branch.
Gonzalez will work to develop an assay to detect a biological marker of inflammation in newborns using previously collected blood spot samples. She will also learn new techniques as part of the externship, including mass spectrometry and Luminex bioassays. The methods she learns at the CDC can be applied to her ongoing work at the Northeastern SRP Center, which involves determining the environmental factors that contribute to preterm birth in Puerto Rico.
“The KC Donnelly Fellowship offers a unique opportunity to train at the CDC to learn the most cutting-edge laboratory techniques,” said Andrea. “This will prepare me better to develop a research track on environmental factors linked to preterm birth.”
William Klaren, a doctoral student at the University of Iowa SRP Center, studies the connection of micronutrients on polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) toxicity. For his externship at Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source in Lemont, Illinois, he will work with Stefan Vogt, Ph.D., to determine changes in distribution of metals in the body following exposure to a specific form of PCBs, PCB126.
Specifically, Klaren will investigate the relationship between micronutrients such as copper, manganese, and zinc and PCB126 using x-ray fluorescence microscopy, a technique for which Vogt is an expert. X-ray fluorescence microscopy offers a way to visualize the micronutrient distribution spatially. This study will enhance his ongoing research at Iowa SRP under the guidance of Larry Robertson, Ph.D.
“One aspect of toxicology that I am fascinated by is the multifactorial and multidisciplinary nature of it. My current work on how micronutrient status affects the toxicity of PCBs involves many different disciplines from molecular biology to basic chemistry,” said Klaren. “This externship will provide an interesting perspective from a different discipline, and provide me with an opportunity to collaborate with experts.”
Christopher Olivares is a doctoral student from the University of Arizona SRP Center, working under James Field, Ph.D., and Reyes Sierra, Ph.D. His current research involves understanding how nitroaromatic pollutants, which contribute to environmental pollution, are biotransformed in soils and the toxicity implications of these transformations to microorganisms and multicellular organisms.
Olivares will be conducting a five week externship with Robert Tanguay, Ph.D., at the Oregon State University SRP Center to conduct high-throughput zebrafish ecotoxicity assays using nitroaromatic compounds and their transformation products. This work will provide more information about the implication of toxicity of these pollutants on humans and other animals and supplement his current project of environmental fate of pollutants and its toxicological significance.
“With the KC Donnelly Externship, I will expand my research scope by learning and utilizing the automated zebrafish ecotoxicity assay at Dr. Tanguay’s lab at OSU,” said Olivares. “This experience will expand my research vision and will help me develop professional networks to start my career as a researcher.”
Vivien Taylor, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral researcher at the Dartmouth SRP Center, under the mentorship of Brian Jackson, Ph.D. She will be conducting her externship at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laboratory in Narragansett, Rhode Island.
During her externship, she will be investigating strategies for sampling the bioavailable fraction of mercury and methyl mercury in situ (on-site) in estuaries. Sampling techniques will be tested over a range of salinity and dissolved organic matter concentrations. Robert Burgess, Ph.D., from the EPA’s Office of Research and Development Atlantic Ecology Division, has expertise in developing passive sampling techniques and will serve as her mentor.
“This experience will allow me to develop a new technique and skillset for studying mercury behavior,” said Taylor. “The collaboration between Dartmouth SRP and the EPA will also be valuable because both groups have been monitoring contaminants in New England estuaries.”