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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

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December 2017

NIEHS Science Days focus on early life origins of health and disease

The 15th annual celebration of NIEHS scientific research featured a minisymposium early life origins of health and disease.

Linda Birnbaum speaking at Science Days Birnbaum, shown asking a question after Ferguson’s talk, appreciated the showcase for NIEHS trainees, scientists, and technicians that Science Days offers. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The 15th annual NIEHS Science Days, a celebration of scientific research across the institute, featured a minisymposium on how prenatal and early life exposures contribute to diseases later in life. This is also known as developmental origins of health and disease.

The Nov. 2-3 symposium highlighted all facets of NIEHS scientific research, with presentations from researchers in the Divisions of Intramural Research and National Toxicology Program (NTP), as well as a Division of Extramural Research and Training grantee, and former NIEHS trainee.

Eight oral presentations by fellows, students, and technicians, and two poster sessions featuring more than 90 posters, rounded out the activities. New this year were presentations from the four recipients of the Division of Intramural Research Innovation Research Award.

In opening remarks, Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS and NTP, noted the growing participation of scientists throughout NIEHS over the last six years since the event moved to a two-day format. Awards were then given out for the best trainee talk and poster, and mentor and trainee of the year (see related story).

Joel Abramowitz, Ph.D., special assistant to the NIEHS Scientific Director, was the lead organizer of the event.

Developmental origins of health and disease

Kelly Ferguson, Ph.D., lead researcher in the Perinatal and Early Life Epidemiology Group, discussed her study of exposures that may affect birth outcomes, including gender-specific impacts. She is particularly interested in factors that circulate within the blood, such as reactive oxygen species.

Rebecca Fry, Ph.D., a grantee from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, discussed her research on the placenta, which she described as a temporary organ. Fry studies epigenetic changes, or changes to DNA that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence, in the placenta that may affect disease later in life.

Vickie Walker, health scientist in the NTP Office of Health Assessment and Translation, presented evidence of health effects that are passed from generation to generation. This research will be essential in understanding the impact of their children of exposures their parents experienced.

Dudek answered questions from the session Ferguson answered a question from session chair Serena Dudek, Ph.D., deputy chief of the Neurobiology Laboratory. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Genetic components of addiction

Hancock talking about her work Hancock described her work on identification of genetic components related to addiction and smoking behaviors. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Former NIEHS trainee Dana Hancock, Ph.D., now a senior genetic epidemiologist at RTI International, returned to discuss her current work. "I was incredibly honored to be invited back," Hancock said. "I still collaborate with my postdoc mentor." She added that part of her current research is similar to the pulmonary function research she conducted at NIEHS.

At RTI, Hancock uses human genomic data and assessments of smoking behaviors to identify DNA regions that may be related to addictive behaviors. Her recent research is looking at changes in mRNA concentrations. Hancock said studying these changes will help to identify molecular processes that may lead to these behaviors. Together, these results help provide a full view of the genetic factors that may contribute to smoking behaviors and addiction.

(Cody Nichols, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the NIEHS Genetics, Environment, and Respiratory Disease Group.)


Darryl Zeldin, M.D. NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D., thanked the members of the steering committee and volunteer judges, who help make Science Days a success. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
McWhorter talks about childhood trauma McWhorter discussed childhood trauma and sleep disturbances in women. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Kathleen McCann, Ph.D. IRTA fellow Kathleen McCann, Ph.D., from the Epigenetics and Stem Cell Biology Laboratory, explained her research using mouse embryonic stem cells. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Brad Klemm, Ph.D. and Tammy Collins, PhD. discussing findings Brad Klemm, Ph.D., IRTA fellow from the Genome Integrity and Structural Biology Laboratory, explained his latest findings to Tammy Collins, PhD., director of the NIEHS Office of Fellows’ Career Development. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
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