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At the February meeting, the advisory council heard updates on programs gave a thumbs-up to three newly proposed initiatives.
By Ernie Hood
The NIEHS National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council meeting Feb. 23-24 brought council members up to date on developments in some of the institute’s newest, and oldest, programs. The council also gave a thumbs-up to three new initiatives.
The council unanimously approved development of three new concepts.
Exposures during preconception and health across the lifespan — designed to examine the effects of environmental exposures on male and female germ cells.
Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) phase two — an NIH Common Fund program designed to enhance capacity for genomics research in Africa by African scientists.
Collaborative research in environmental mixtures — a proposed research consortium to develop statistical and bioinformatic tools to study exposures to mixtures of chemicals.
The latest news
Children’s Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR) and Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) — David Balshaw, Ph.D., and Claudia Thompson, Ph.D., briefed the council on the new programs. CHEAR provides the grantee community with access to laboratory and data analyses, to add or expand the inclusion of environmental exposures in their children’s health research. The first CHEAR grants were awarded in September 2015. ECHO will investigate the influence of environmental exposures before and after birth on pediatric development and health outcomes. The first ECHO grants are scheduled to be awarded in September 2016.
Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP) — Caroline Dilworth, Ph.D., BCERP lead, gave an update on the joint NIEHS-National Cancer Institute program that consists of six transdisciplinary research projects that focus susceptible periods of life.
NIH-EPA Centers of Excellence on Environmental Health Disparities Research — Symma Finn, Ph.D., provided an update on the Centers of Excellence, which are five centers that study environmental health disparities, supported by NIEHS and the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities.
NIEHS and EPA Children’s Centers for Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research — The Children’s Centers lead, Kim Gray, Ph.D., summarized recent outreach activities in this long-standing program, which currently has three renewed centers and two new ones.
Tox21 — According to Richard Paules, Ph.D., program lead, Tox21 is entering its third phase, which will focus on improving the biological coverage and human relevance of scientific results by incorporating new tools and methods (see sidebar).
(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)
Climate Change and Environmental Exposures Challenge winners
Council members heard the first public announcement of the winners of the challenge, which is the first of its kind. Kimberly Thigpen Tart, J.D., from the NIEHS climate change challenge team, revealed the awards made for tools that serve needs in two categories — local and national.
First place, national — PIE Viz, Populations, Infrastructures, and Exposures Visualization Tool, submitted by Julia Gohlke, Ph.D.; Samarth Swarup, Ph.D.; and Dawen Xie from Virginia Tech. No second place was awarded in this category.
First place, local — Effects of Climate Change on the Future of Local Communities, submitted by Yi Wang, Ph.D., of the ichard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Second place, local (tie) — The San Francisco Climate and Health Profile, submitted by the San Francisco Department of Public Health Climate and Health Program.
Second place, local (tie) — Up With the Waters, submitted by Amanda Koltz from Washington University in St. Louis, and Steve Koltz, NYC web development fellow from the Flatiron School in Brooklyn, New York.
Read more about the winners and the new tools in the April Environmental Factor.
Gwen Collman, Ph.D., NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training director, discussed alignment of the grant portfolio with NIEHS strategic plan priorities. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program, focused on the Flint, Michigan, lead situation (see related story). “It is an environmental tragedy and a clear example of health disparities,” she said. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Tox21 and high-throughput transcriptomics
One goal of the third phase of Tox21 is to expand understanding of responses to chemical exposures, by using a high-throughput, low-cost approach to measure the transcriptome, known as high-throughput transcriptomics.
The transcriptome is the complete set of RNAs encoded by the genome of a cell or organism at a specific time or circumstance. Scientists believe that measuring whole systems, such as the transcriptome, can link exposures with alterations in biological processes that may result in toxicity or disease.
Paules noted that incorporating high-throughput transcriptomics would be a significant step forward, but costs remain high. “At this point in time, it’s probably necessary to focus on a subset of genes to use in a rapid, low-cost technology suitable to a high-throughput screen approach,” he told the council.