Superfund Research Program grantees gather in San Jose for annual meeting
By Sara Mishamandani
The annual meeting of the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) Nov. 12-14 in San Jose, California, brought together researchers, trainees, and administrators supported by the program, as well as representatives from partner agencies to discuss new research, technology, communication, and community engagement.
Hosted by SRP grantees at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), the meeting provided a forum for presentations and discussion in areas critical to the program's multidisciplinary research mission, to address human and environmental health challenges related to Superfund and other hazardous waste sites.
Focusing on practical applications of research findings
SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., and NIEHS Deputy Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D., gave opening remarks. They both emphasized the importance of data sharing and the value of working collaboratively to share and translate research to improve public health.
“This meeting showcased a wide range of problem-based, solution-oriented research that is being performed as part of the SRP,” said Suk. “This outstanding meeting brought together experts from a broad range of environmental health fields in the program to develop new ideas and perspectives to tackle environmental problems and improve public health.”
Researchers presented key results from their work during the meeting. In the environmental sciences and engineering session, diverse topics included modeling pollutant exposure in fish, dust deposition from mine waste, and challenges related to vapor intrusion. The health sciences session covered research findings from epidemiology, toxicology, and systems biology studies related to adverse effects from early life exposures to chemicals, as well as liver injury from exposure to environmental contaminants.
The meeting featured keynote speaker Jill Banfield, Ph.D., a Berkeley professor, who discussed the importance of the microbiome to health and environmental research. Banfield is a leader in the field of microbiology with a focus on the fundamental relationship between microorganisms and their chemical environments. David Sedlak, Ph.D., professor at Berkeley and author of the book “Water 4.0,” also gave a keynote address on the need to develop local sources of drinking water, including the cleanup and reuse of contaminated urban groundwater. Sedlak’s talk was followed by a panel discussion on emerging contaminants in water by program grantees, as well as federal and state environmental agency partners.
A spotlight on research translation and community engagement
The SRP Research Translation and Community Engagement Cores held a daylong separate meeting prior to the opening of the main sessions to showcase successes from the year and identify ways for centers to collaborate and learn from each other.
As part of the main meeting, grantees described how they took basic research findings and moved them from the lab to inform environmental public policy, to start an environmental detection device business, and to create an urban community garden from a brownfield, land previously used for industrial or commercial purposes and contaminated by hazardous waste.
Highlighting and rewarding trainee successes
The meeting, which began and ended with talks by graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, showcased trainee research. During this science presentation session, trainees explained research related to modeling, detecting, and assessing various environmental toxicants. The meeting concluded with talks from six KC Donnelly Externship Award winners, who described their experiences and results from an SRP-funded externship at another SRP center, or federal or state agency.
Continuing the research translation theme, trainees were encouraged to improve how they describe their research through both scientific and lay audience abstracts for their research project posters. Four students received awards in the annual student poster competition. In the environmental sciences and engineering category, the winners were Angela Gutierrez, of the University of Kentucky, and Alden Adrion, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the health sciences category, the winners were Peter William Dornbos, of Michigan State University, and Sarah Carratt, of the University of California, Davis.
(Sara Mishamandani is a research and communication specialist for MDB Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Superfund Research Program and Division of Extramural Research and Training.)