“Toxic Metals — From Exposures and Model Systems to Human Populations,” was the theme of the first annual symposium of the NIEHS-funded Center for Human Health and the Environment (CHHE) at North Carolina State University (NCSU). The event brought center members and colleagues to the NCSU James B. Hunt Library Feb. 16 to highlight CHHE research. More than 100 investigators, postdocs, graduate students, and community members participated in scientific talks, presented at poster sessions, and socialized with colleagues.
“I’m very excited about the CHHE’s first annual symposium,” said Center Director Robert Smart, Ph.D. “The research presented illustrates the interdisciplinary nature of the [center] and represents the continuum from exposure to genes to human populations.”
NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., kicked off the event with a talk highlighting the importance of toxic metal exposure science and recent NIEHS-funded discoveries in the field.
From safe housing to carcinogenesis
Lorisa Seibel, director of housing programs for Reinvestment Partners in Durham, North Carolina, discussed the prevention of lead exposure in Durham communities. CHHE’s Community Outreach and Engagement Core works closely with community groups in Durham to address and reduce toxic metal exposure, making Seibel’s talk especially relevant.
Michael Waalkes, Ph.D., retired NTP senior advisor and a pioneer in the field of metal toxicology and carcinogenesis, delivered the keynote address. Waalkes highlighted his seminal discoveries in metals and carcinogenesis during his 33-year career in public service.
Postdocs and graduate students shared their research during two poster sessions, which provided more time for collaboration and discussion. The remainder of the day was filled with presentations by CHHE members. Attendees heard new findings on toxic metals and connections within a host of scientific disciplines.
- Environmental remediation, or cleaning up polluted sites to decrease the risks.
- Exposure science.
- Model systems, including rodents and fruit flies.
Interdisciplinary center fosters information exchange
“Symposia like this one demonstrate the value of EHS Core Centers for bringing together researchers, postdocs, and community residents to learn from each other,” said Claudia Thompson, Ph.D. As head of the NIEHS Population Health Branch, Thompson oversees the approximately 20 NIEHS Environmental Health Science (EHS) Core Centers, of which CHHE is one of the newest.
“Participants get to hear about environmental health research and its benefits for community residents, and they learn about the concerns of the local community and what activities are already taking place,” Thompson explained.
CHHE brings together nearly 90 researchers from multiple disciplines across NCSU, and from East Carolina University, Brody School of Medicine, North Carolina Central University, and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Through interdisciplinary research and outreach, CHHE serves as an incubator of scientific discovery and communication on the fundamental mechanisms through which environmental stressors interact with biological pathways, the genome, and epigenome that affect human health.
(John House, Ph.D., is a research scholar in the NCSU Bioinformatics Research Center, a member of CHHE, and symposium planning committee chair. He is a former NIEHS postdoctoral fellow.)