Bradley Newsome, Ph.D., winner of the 17th Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award(https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/centers/srp/training/wetterhahn/index.cfm), discussed his progression from graduate student in the University of Kentucky (UK) Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center to his current policy work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In a May 5 talk at NIEHS, the former UK SRP trainee emphasized the importance of bringing together different disciplines to address complex problems.
“I built my graduate education around what SRP exemplifies — addressing a scientific problem from its component parts, by bringing together biomedical and environmental research, research translation, and training that facilitates integrating disciplines,” said Newsome. “I am now using what I learned at the UK SRP Center to better understand how to more effectively promote diversity in the scientific workforce and make scientific training more equitable.”
Expanding scientific workforce diversity
Newsome is an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow, working in the NIH Office of the Director, for Hannah Valantine, M.D., chief officer for scientific workforce diversity.
Newsome focuses on how to provide 21st century career skills to students, especially those underrepresented in science. He showed how diversity in the scientific workforce decreases as education and career levels increase, attributing it to losing people at transitions between degrees and career levels. Better tracking of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows could reveal where people drop off in their career progression, shedding light on barriers to moving forward.
“Instead of great minds think alike, we would argue that great minds think differently,” said Newsome. “You have the most creative teams when members create friction and bring a diverse perspective. We are working to find ways to understand what skills and resources underrepresented scientists need to be successful in their careers, to improve diversity at higher levels in the workforce.”
Lessons from multidisciplinary training
Taking a holistic approach to risk reduction, Newsome’s doctoral work at the UK SRP Center looked at both cleanup of environmental chemicals and how nutrition can reduce toxicity of those chemicals.
He studied polyphenols, a class of antioxidants found in green tea, and their regulation of enzymes in the body that effectively protect against effects of environmental pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls. In the environment, polyphenols also show an affinity for binding to certain chlorinated organic pollutants, so he began work combining polyphenols with environmental membrane systems to remove contaminants from water.
Using a multifaceted approach, Newsome and colleagues at the UK SRP Center studied how polyphenols can be used nutritionally to reduce chemical toxicity, and environmentally to reduce water contamination. This concept has led to community engagement activities aimed at providing information to people in Kentucky about ways to improve their health through good nutrition.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today, as a fellow in the NIH Office of the Director, without the convergence-based training I received in the SRP,” Newsome said.
(Sara Mishamandani is a research and communication specialist for MDB Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)