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ISEE 2009 Honors NIEHS Grantees

By Eddy Ball
October 2009

Allan Smith, M.D., Ph.D.
Smith said that "the main support for our research program over the years has come from NIEHS," as he expressed his appreciation for the "key roles in our success" played by colleagues, research staff and the program's many collaborators.
(Photo courtesy of Allan Smith and UCB)

Steve Wing, Ph.D.
According to Collman, Wing "really sees the world as an activist-scientist. It's a very different perspective than people in basic science generally have."
(Photo courtesy of Steve Wing and UNC-CH)

Two long-term NIEHS grantees were recognized at the joint British-Irish 21st Annual Conference of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology 2009 (ISEE) at the University College Dublin August 25-29. Their awards are the highest honors presented each year at the ISEE conference.

During an awards plenary session at the conference on August 26, former ISEE President Allan Smith, M.D., Ph.D, of the University of California at Berkeley (UCB), was presented the John Goldsmith Award for Outstanding Contributions to Environmental Epidemiology, and Steve Wing, Ph.D. ( Exit NIEHS, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) received the ISEE Research Integrity Award. Smith and Wing gave talks on their research as a part of the awards ceremony.

"We have supported Allan Smith continuously since the 1990s," said NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training Acting Director Gwen Collman, Ph.D. "He is one of the pioneer researchers in the field of arsenic and an innovative collaborator who has uncovered international trends of arsenic's effects on human health."

"Steve Wing is both an outstanding scientist and an outspoken advocate," Collman continued, "and his work has been very influential in the area of environmental justice issues. He has taken significant personal and professional risks to protect the integrity and confidentiality of his research."

Smith, a professor of Epidemiology in the UCB School of Public Health and an NIEHS grantee for more than 20 years, was honored for his important contributions to the field of environmental epidemiology and their significant impact on public health thinking and practice. Smith is best known for his pioneering work spanning several decades in unraveling the health effects of environmental arsenic exposure — especially the risks of cancer. His careful multi-country research on the epidemiological relationship of this ubiquitous metal to human cancer paved the way for toxicologists and laboratory science to identify underlying biological mechanisms.

Smith has conducted studies on arsenic and health in India, Argentina, Chile, and elsewhere, working tirelessly, meticulously and effectively with many local collaborators. The upshot of this definitive work has been to prompt national regulatory agencies to impose stricter standards on arsenic levels in drinking water. Meanwhile, running through Smith's long and distinguished career in epidemiology has been his constant interest in, and publication of, critical issues in methodology.

Wing, of the Department of Epidemiology in the UNC-CH School of Public Health was honored for his resistance to heavy pressure from several strong special interest groups for research that he believed would serve the public good, in particular that of disadvantaged communities. His research on politically sensitive issues includes studies of the community health effects of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and of exposure to land-applied sewage sludge in rural communities.

Although Wing's work on CAFOs in North Carolina was challenged by industry lawyers, he effectively resisted this intimidation. This work had subsequent policy impact, contributing to a continuing moratorium on building new hog-waste lagoons. Wing has also conducted and published investigations into radiation exposure effects, including results unfavorable to the U.S. Department of Energy and other powerful interests. Wing has typically worked in partnership with communities, striving for community-driven socially useful research. He has co-organized a statewide conference on how corporations and foundations influence university decisions and how faculty can protect the mission of higher education and responsible research.

"These scientists are an important part of the fabric of NIEHS," Collman said. "We have made a major, decades-long investment in their work, and it's wonderful to see the value their contributions to the field recognized by an organization of the stature of ISEE."

NIEHS Scientist and Grantees at ISEE

ISEE 2009 drew researchers worldwide to an extensive program of plenary talks, oral sessions and poster presentations involving more than 3,000 contributors. According to Collman, whose programs were well represented at the event, "The meeting gave NIEHS scientists and grantees extraordinary opportunities for networking and exploring international and cross-disciplinary partnerships." Along with its support of some of the leading experts in epidemiology and global health at the conference, NIEHS also provided financial sponsorship for the meeting.

In addition to Smith and Wing, high profile NIEHS grantees presenting at the meeting included Joel Schwartz, Ph.D., Douglas Dockery, Ph.D., and Marc Weisskopf, Ph.D., of Harvard University; Irva Herz-Piciotto, Ph.D., and Isaac Pessah, Ph.D., of the University of California, Davis; Howard Hu, M.D., Sc.D., of the University of Michigan, Joseph Graziano, Ph.D., of Columbia University, Beate Ritz, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, and NIEHS Outstanding New Environmental Scientist (ONES) awardee Michelle Bell, Ph.D., of Yale University.

The NIEHS Intramural program was represented by several researchers, including Freya Kamel, Ph.D., Walter Rogan, M.D., and Postdoctoral Fellow Yang Cao, Ph.D., of the Epidemiology Branch; Chris Portier, Ph.D., and former Postdoctoral Fellow Julia Gohlke, Ph.D., of the Laboratory of Molecular Toxicology; Darryl Zeldin, M.D., and Michelle Sever of the Laboratory of Respiratory Biology.

Representatives of the DERT initiative, Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH) — Caroline Dilworth, Ph.D., Liam O'Fallon and Kimberley Gray, Ph.D. — gave a presentation on "Community Engagement Benefits Health Research" to promote this new funding mechanism for community-based participatory and environmental justice research.

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