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NIEHS Celebrates ONES Award Winners

By John Peterson (with Eddy Ball)
November 2006

Pat Mastin
Moderator Pat Mastin. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Dr. Schwartz
Dr. Schwartz had questions for each of the ONES winners. Behind him, ONES winners Gokhan Multu and Donna Zhang listen. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Gokhan Multu, Stephania Cormier, Patricia (Patty) Opresko, Sven Jordt, Michael Borchers, Donna Zhang, Michelle Bell and Thomas (Tom) Begley
Following the morning presentations, ONES award winners gathered outside for photo. Shown (left to right) are Gokhan Multu, Stephania Cormier, Patricia (Patty) Opresko, Sven Jordt, Michael Borchers, Donna Zhang, Michelle Bell and Thomas (Tom) Begley. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS welcomed eight members of the next generation of environmental researchers on October 16 with an Outstanding New Environmental Scientist (ONES) Award ceremony in Rodbell. NIEHS Director David Schwartz, M.D., delivered a welcome address and program overview to a near-capacity audience of scientists and grant administrators. Individual ONES recipients then presented thirty-minute summaries of the research they are undertaking in a program moderated by Cellular, Organ and Systems Pathobiology Branch Chief, Pat Mastin, Ph.D.

When he announced the award winners in September, Schwartz emphasized the program's importance in nurturing new talent at NIEHS. "The ONES Program is designed to provide a strong foundation for outstanding scientists who are in the early, formative stages of their careers," he explained. "These grants will assist the scientists in launching innovative research programs that focus on human disease and the influence of the environment."

Totaling $3.6 million, the ONES Awards are part of an NIEHS initiative to bridge the gap between research in the basic sciences and applications in human health. As a component of the Strategic Plan, the awards will stimulate interdisciplinary research into diseases with close links to environmental exposures by recruiting and training the next generation of environmental scientists. By identifying exposures, biological impact and the interplay of genetics with environment, researchers will improve understanding of the risks of exposure to selected environmental agents, factors which make some populations more susceptible to developing disease than others, and potential interventions in the mechanisms of disease processes.

Grants were awarded to scientists engaged in research related to human disease. The titles of individual studies themselves reflect the increasing emphasis in NIEHS research on taking research from the laboratory bench into the development of preventive and treatment interventions to improve human health. The grants will support the eight researchers over a five-year period as they conduct their studies.

The eight awardees are pursuing research with promise of preventive and clinical applications:

  • Donna D. Zhang, Ph.D., University of Arizona, will study the mechanism by which cells protect themselves from the toxic effects of arsenic, a highly poisonous metal that can cause DNA damage and lead to an increased risk for certain cancers. "The Protective Role of Nrf2 in Arsenic-Induced Toxicity and Carcinogenicity"
  • Thomas J. Begley, Ph.D., State University of New York at Albany, will examine the way in which damage to DNA from environmental exposures can trigger the production of certain proteins that help protect the cell from toxic agents. "The Roles of Trm9 and tRNA Methylation in the DNA Damage Response."
  • Patricia Lynn Opresko, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, will explore the effects of environmental agents on telomeres, small segments of DNA located at the ends of chromosomes, which help control aging and death of cells. "Mechanisms of Telomeric DNA Loss and Repair."
  • Sven-Eric Jordt, Ph.D., Yale University, will study the way in which certain airborne pollutants interact with sensory nerve cells in order to produce eye, nose and throat irritation. "TRPA1 Channels in Sensory Neurons as Targets for Environmental Irritants."
  • Michelle L. Bell, Ph.D., Yale University, will study the relationship between outdoor concentrations of ozone, a form of oxygen that is a primary component of urban smog, and the incidence of respiratory disease and death in exposed populations. "National Assessment of the Mortality and Morbidity Effects of Tropospheric Ozone."
  • Stephania A. Cormier, Ph.D., Louisiana State University, will conduct research on fine particle air pollution - microscopic particles of dust and soot less than 2.5 microns in diameter - to determine whether exposure to these tiny particles can produce changes in immune system function that could result in an increased risk for developing asthma. "Combustion Generated PM0.1 and Predisposition to Asthma."
  • Michael Borchers, Ph.D., University of Cincinnati, will examine the relationship between exposure to airborne chemicals from vehicle exhaust and industrial sources, and increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. "Shared Mechanisms of Pulmonary Lymphocyte Activation by Bacteria and Toxicants."
  • Gokhan M. Mutlu, M.D., Northwestern University, will study the effects of fine particle exposure on blood flow and heart disease risk. "Mechanisms of Airborne Particulate Matter Induced Thrombosis."

Following their presentations, the ONES recipients had lunch with DERT program administrators and met with DIR scientists engaged in investigations related to their research.

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