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Schwartz Tapes Television Show on Exposure Biology Devices

By Eddy Ball
July 2007

a penny compared to a microchip
Walt's lab utilizes small chips for the monitoring devices, which house small arrays containing thousands of features. (Photo courtesy of David Walt and Tufts University)

a penny compared to a fiber
Together with small chips, the tiny fibers used in the devices make it much easier for individuals to carry monitors around with them. (Photo courtesy of David Walt and Tufts University)

NIEHS Director David A. Schwartz, M.D., and NIH grantee David Walt, Ph.D.( Exit NIEHS, joined NIH Director Elias Zerhouni. M.D., on June 4 to tape a segment of the Medical Broadcasting Channel (MBC) program "Tomorrow's Medicine Today." Filming took place in studios at New Jersey's Montclair State University. Clinical psychiatrist Naomi Weinshenker, M.D., of New York University co-hosted the 30-minute segment with Zerhouni. The show featured discussions of current biomedical research advances in exposure biology and insight into the ways NIH affects people's lives.

The segments will be broadcast worldwide over MBC via satellite and internet transmission to some 23 million health care workers. Although the series has yet to be scheduled for wider broadcast in the United States, the producers anticipate that New Jersey Public Television will pick up the series and then syndicate it around the country.

During his part of the show, Schwartz discussed the gene-environment connection to many diseases and chronic conditions, such as allergies, asthma, Parkinson's and obesity, and the rationale behind the NIEHS Exposure Biology Program. According to Schwartz, the technologies developed with Exposure Biology grants will help to measure people's exposure to agents in their environment and lead to a better understanding of an individual's biological response to those environmental agents.

New devices promise significant advances over current technology that can only measure one agent, such as formaldehyde, Schwartz explained. Devices now in development will be capable of making many environmental measurements simultaneously. With this detailed information about an individual, physicians will have an opportunity to design a truly personalized medicine, and researchers will have access to the data they need to understand better the links between exposure, genes and disease.

Walt, a professor of Bioorganic and Materials Chemistry at Tufts University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has been working on smaller and more sophisticated environmental monitors with grants from National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. These new monitors can conduct millions of experiments and collect millions of measurements of the environment and a person's biological reactions using very small clinical samples.

The most advanced of these biosensors utilize tiny microarrays, fiber optics, and microfluidic chips for protein and peptide separations. As the devices get progressively smaller and economy of scale begins to affect material costs, the monitors are becoming more affordable and easier for people to carry with them. The monitors can alert health care practitioners of an individual's exposure to an agent and identify the link between a symptom, such as wheezing in an asthmatic, and the specific agent, such as cat dander, that caused it. With information from the biosensors, researchers can study fundamental aspects of biochemistry, genetics, cell biology and olfaction.

MBC broadcasts medical education content all around the world 24 hours a day, seven days a week, airing both donated and original medical video content to help educate physicians and other allied healthcare workers on both satellite and Internet2. The network is a division of Medical Missions for Children, which describes itself as a four-star, multiple-award winning charity located at St. Joseph 's Children's Hospital in Paterson, NJ.

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