OEFC & IHSFC Recent Voucher Awards

Congratulations to Investigators who were recently awarded OEFC & IHSFC Voucher Awards!

Cycle- 3 December 2021 Ready to Go IHSFC Research Voucher Awards

Small IHSFC Research Voucher Award(s): Small research voucher applications (up to $1,500) support the costs associated with research needed to finish out a project or address questions arising in manuscript revisions or grant resubmissions.

Principal Investigator: Timothy O’Toole, Ph.D.
Collaborator: NA
Title: Markers of physical strength and aging in the NEAT cohort
Lay Description: In addition to promoting inflammation and pre-clinical cardiovascular disease, the inhalation of air pollution particles may also contribute to physical frailty and aging, and we are addressing these effects in our current study cohort by measuring hand grip and leg strength. An additional indicator of physical strength that is sometimes used is blood plasma levels of suPAR. Elevated levels of suPAR are associated with an accelerated pace of aging and declines in physical and cognitive function. This award will allow us to measure suPAR in our local study cohort, enabling a rapid assessment of the biological links between air pollution and impaired physical function.

Large IHSFC Research Voucher Award(s)(up to 25% total costs capped at a $10,000 maximum): Large research voucher applications will be provided to subsidize already funded EHS research (for example NIEHS).

Principal Investigator: Lonnie Sears, Ph.D
Collaborator: Kristina Zierold, Ph.D. (UAB), Lu Cai, M.D., Ph.D., Clara Sears, Ph.D.
Title: Metal(loid) body burden in children living near coal power plants
Lay Description: The research voucher will fund ICP-MS to be used to assess finger and toe nails as biomarkers of heavy metal exposure in children living near coal ash storage sites. ICP-MS will provide information on metal body burden in a sample of 260 children and identify metals potentially impacting child neurobehavioral health.

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Cycle 4 - October 2021 OEFC Research Voucher Awards

Medium OEFC Research Voucher Award(s): Medium research voucher applications support the expenses (up to $5,000) associated with critical exploratory research and proof-of-concept studies needed by CIEHS members for hypothesis generation and grant (re)submission.

Principal Investigator: Barbara J. Clark, Ph.D.
Collaborator: Carolyn M. Klinge, Ph.D
Title: STARD5 and lipid dysregulation with ER stress
Description: Environmental exposure to persistent pollutants is recognized as a risk factor for development of metabolic diseases. The risk is greater when combined with underlying genetic and dietary factors. Chronic endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress from over nutrition and environmental toxicants can lead to inflammatory responses that promote development of toxicant-associated steatohepatitis (TASH), yet the mechanisms that promote disease progression are complex and not well defined. Using a novel Stard5 knock-out mouse model this project will test whether the loss of STARD5 is risk factor for development of steatohepatitis under ER stress conditions. STARD5 is a member of the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR)-related lipid-transfer (START) domain family of lipid transport proteins, and is highly expressed in key cell types that promote steatohepatitis. We have identified changes in select target genes that support Stard5-/- mice are more sensitive to tunicamycin-induced changes in liver lipid metabolism. The work proposed will define the liver transcriptome for wild type vs Stard5-/- mice after tunicamycin-induced ER stress. Using this unbiased approach our understanding of the impact of Stard5 knockout on mouse liver mRNA transcriptomes under normal and stress conditions will be expanded. The novelty is there are no transcriptomics reports using the Stard5-/- mice. The work will provide proof-of-concept support to expand investigations on loss of STARD5 in contributing to diet-environmental pollutant-induced TASH.

Principal Investigator: Anna Gumpert, Ph.D.
Collaborator: Daniel Conklin, Ph.D.
Title: Combined Effects of Air Pollution and Hypertension on Cardiovascular Remodeling
Description: Human population studies indicate that 60-70% of the premature deaths attributed to air pollution are cardiovascular deaths. High blood pressure and cardiac fibrosis are important contributors to detrimental structural and functional changes and progressive worsening of heart disease. Our studies aim to investigate how environmental factors (i.e. air pollution) contribute to worsening outcomes and decreased quality of life.

Cycle 5 - December 2021 Ready to Go OEFC Voucher Awards

Medium OEFC Research Voucher Award(s):Medium research voucher applications support the expenses (up to $5,000) associated with critical exploratory research and proof-of-concept studies needed by CIEHS members for hypothesis generation and grant (re-) submission.

Principal Investigator: Venkatakrishna Jala, Ph.D.
Collaborator: Matthew Cave, M.D.
Title: Combating environmental toxin, PCB-126 associated toxicities
Lay Description: Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) are environmental toxins and are associated with numerous cancers, skin lesions, thyroid disruption, and altered menstrual cycling, as well as damage to the nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems. We found that exposure of one such PCB called ‘PCB-126’ caused significant damage to in intestinal epithelial barrier. We identified that co-treatment beneficial dietary microbial metabolite called ‘urolithin A (UroA)’ rescued PCB-126-mediated intestinal epithelial barrier damage. The goal of this project is to identify molecular mechanisms responsible for UroA-mediated protective activities against PCB-126-induced toxicities. We proposed to perform RNA-sequencing experiments to determine the regulation of differential gene expression in intestinal epithelial organoids that were exposed to PCB-126 in the presence or absence of UroA.

Principal Investigator: Carolyn Klinge, Ph.D.
Collaborator: Matthew C. Cave, M.D., Yan Li, M.D., Ph.D., Xiang Zhang, Ph.D.
Title: Epitranscriptome in a murine model of diet and PCB-induced HCC
Lay Description: This project will identify chemical modifications on transcribed RNA in the livers of male mice on a low-fat diet with or without a single exposure to a mix of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These chemical changes on RNA are the ‘epitranscriptome’. Some of the mice in this study developed hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and we will identify the transcriptome in the HCC tumors. We will use computational analysis to identify cellular pathways altered in these samples.

Principal Investigator: J. Christopher States, Ph.D.
Collaborator: Juw Won Park, Ph.D.
Title: Gene Fusions and In/del Mutations in Arsenic-induced Skin Cancer
Lay Description: Recent research has revealed that gene rearrangements resulting in formation of ‘hybrid genes’ (aka ‘gene fusions’) are driving carcinogenesis. Arsenic exposure is known to cause chromosomal instability and gene rearrangements. This research voucher will allow us to examine genomic DNA isolated from a few arsenic exposure induced skin tumors for evidence of deletions in genes and rearrangements of genes that may be causing the cancer formation.

Principal Investigator: Banrida Wahlang, Ph.D.
Collaborator: Carolyn Klinge, Ph.D., Matthew C. Cave, M.D.
Title: Alterations in gut microbiome caused by long-term exposure to PCBs
Lay Description: Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are environmental chemicals that have been linked to numerous health effects in people who are exposed to them. These health effects include liver disease, reproductive defects, and cardiovascular diseases. Our gut bacteria play an important role in influencing liver health with higher amounts of "good bacteria" known to be beneficial to the liver. PCBs are known to cause changes to gut bacteria composition, and this may potentially promote liver diseases. Using experimental models in the laboratory, extensive research has been performed on how PCB exposures, over shorter periods of time, can cause toxicity to organs such as the liver and gut. However, little is known on how PCB exposures over longer periods of time can impact these organs. The proposed project seeks to understand how long-term exposures to PCBs can affect the composition of gut bacteria in the body, and how these changes can, in turn, impact liver health and/or worsen liver disease. Importantly, people are exposed to "forever chemicals" such as PCBs over their life span, therefore these long-term exposure studies are relevant because they better reflect human exposure patterns.

Principal Investigator: Kupper Wintergerst, MD
Collaborator: Lu Cai, M.D., Ph.D., Yi Tan, Ph.D., Sara Watson, M.D.
Title: Serum nonessential and essential metals in children with type 1 & type 2 diabetes
Lay Description: Our study will investigate the connection between diabetes and the presence or absence of essential and toxic metals in children and adolescents with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Essential metals, such as zinc or calcium, are important to normal body function. Toxic metals, such as lead or arsenic, can be dangerous. Our goal will be to determine if there is an association between having high or low quantities of these metals and the diagnosis of diabetes.

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