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New HUD grant to study environmental hazards in Rochester children’s homes

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded a $927,069 grant to a partnership between the University of Rochester, Silent Spring Institute, the National Center for Healthy Housing, and the City of Rochester to study the impacts of home rehabilitation and resident engagement on exposures to harmful environmental chemicals within the home. This project will build on Rochester’s nationally recognized lead poisoning prevention work to inform efforts to protect children and families from a wide range of home hazards.

The partners will work with the City of Rochester’s highly successful Lead Hazard Control plus Healthy Homes program, which provides grants to low-income owner-occupants and landlords to address lead hazards in pre-1978 housing. The City of Rochester has received over $35 million in grant funding from HUD over the past 15 years to support lead hazard remediation in thousands of city homes.

This study will for the first time explore the potential of HUD-funded Lead Hazard Control grants to affect a wide range of other home-based exposures including pesticides, allergens, and endocrine disrupting chemicals such as flame retardants and phthalates. These chemical exposures contribute to a wide range of health concerns including asthma, learning disabilities, reproductive system problems, and cancer. The Lead Hazard Control grant program serves low-income families with young children, who are at particular risk from these environmental hazards.

Working with 100 owner-occupants over the next three years, the research team will study a wide range of chemicals in household dust before and after lead hazard control interventions. The project will engage with residents to educate them about how to maintain a healthy home, use safer consumer products (cleaners, air fresheners, pest control), and access additional community resources for support.

The University of Rochester has partnered with community stakeholders and the City of Rochester for several decades to develop childhood lead poisoning prevention efforts that are widely recognized as a national model. The new project builds on this collaboration and extends it to broader environmental health concerns by working with Silent Spring Institute, a non-profit research organization that studies environmental chemical exposures that harm human health and educates communities on how to reduce their exposures. Robin Dodson, Sc.D., the lead investigator from Silent Spring Institute, is an environmental exposure scientist with expertise in analyzing multiple chemical exposures in household dust. "With this grant, we will deepen our understanding of how to effectively create healthier homes, especially among the most vulnerable, by lowering indoor exposures to harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals, ," said Dobson.

“This grant will let us build on our longstanding partnership with the City of Rochester to learn how we can leverage childhood lead poisoning prevention efforts to maximize a wide range of lifelong health benefits for children and their families,” said Katrina Smith Korfmacher, Ph.D., associate professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Korfmacher has worked extensively with Rochester’s community-based lead poisoning prevention efforts and is a co-principal investigator on the new HUD grant.

“I want to congratulate the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Environmental Health Sciences Center on this award of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to study methods to improve environmental conditions in the home,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren. “Thanks in large part to our partnership with the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning and our adoption of the Lead Ordinance, the City of Rochester has been cited as the national ‘gold standard’ for healthy housing policies. We are excited to partner with the University of Rochester and Silent Spring Institute to build on the success of these initiatives to find even more opportunities to provide all children and their families with access to homes that are healthy and safe.”

The National Center for Healthy Housing is a national non-profit group that conducts research and promotes policies to promote health equity through improved housing quality. NCHH will inform the resident engagement component of the study, based on the New York State Healthy Neighborhoods Program and will disseminate results through its national networks of community groups, policymakers, and healthy homes professionals.

The research team expects that the findings will inform future HUD grant programs, policies, and practices to better protect children’s environmental health. Efforts to cost-effectively address home environmental health hazards are particularly important now, as children and families spend more time at home due to the pandemic and associated stay-at-home orders, as well as the economic challenges facing many families. “This project builds on years of work on lead poisoning prevention in Rochester that has shown demonstrated success protecting children’s health, has provided a model for other communities, and has informed federal programs and policies,” said Korfmacher. “We hope that our findings will support efforts to protect children from other important hazards in their homes.”

Special Department of Microbiology and Immunology Seminar – Dr. Malika Grayson – November 9th at NOON

Friday, October 23, 2020

How do you make an impact when you are the only person in the room that looks like you? We hear the terms diversity and inclusion but forget that the term representation should be a reflection of diversity and inclusion combined. This isn't always the case. Dr. Grayson discusses her views on what it means to increase diversity and representation as an Individual Contributor. Learn more about her journey as the 2nd Black Woman to graduate with a PhD in  Mechanical Engineering from her graduate institution. Hear about her current work as both an engineer, a STEM Advocate, and her most recent success as author of 'HOODED: A Black Girl's Guide to the PhD' where she highlights her time and lessons learned during her PhD Program.



Researchers Draw More Links between Vaping, Smoking, Young People, and Coronavirus

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

What do vapers, smokers, and non-smokers with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes have in common? They all are at higher risk for COVID-19.

The scientific explanation behind this is complex and not yet certain — but it may boil down to an enzyme known as ACE2, that lives on the surface of many cells in the lungs and serves as the entry point for the coronavirus.

Evidence shows that people with chronic inflammatory illnesses, vulnerable older adults, and those who smoke or vape, all have an abundance of ACE2 receptor proteins to serve as a gateway to the deadly virus.

A research team at the University of Rochester Medical Center, led by Irfan Rahman, Ph.D., published a series of studies during the pandemic that focus on the vital role of ACE2 — which is already at the center of many other scientific investigations — to shape a clearer picture of the critical cellular mechanisms that regulate the deadly virus and its link to vaping.

While Rochester investigators are working in lockstep with scientists around the world, Rahman’s special interest is on the growing problem of young people who test positive and may be spreading coronavirus at alarming rates. Even some older children and teens who have higher levels of the ACE2 receptor seem to be more vulnerable to the virus.

“Our next step is to investigate whether ACE2 is normally low in young people, hence their relatively low infection and mortality rates from COVID-19, but to find out if ACE2 is increased by smoking or vaping rendering them more susceptible to the virus,” said Rahman, Dean’s Professor of Environmental Medicine, Medicine (Pulmonary), and Public Health Sciences. “This would be in contrast to older people with lung diseases such as COPD and pulmonary fibrosis, who we already know are at higher risk for severe viral illnesses and death.”

Read More: Researchers Draw More Links between Vaping, Smoking, Young People, and Coronavirus

Still wiping down your grocery store purchases? Coronavirus risk is 'exceedingly small,' experts say

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many people cleaned grocery-store purchases with disinfecting wipes before putting them away at home.

At that point, it was recommended as a best practice to avoid contagion. The thinking was that because the virus can survive on surfaces for short periods of time, someone could touch a contaminated item and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth and possibly infect themselves.

Now, however, a lot more is known about how COVID-19 spreads – primarily from person to person through droplets in the air. The risk of getting it from surfaces, including grocery packaging, is “exceedingly small,” said Melissa Bronstein, senior director of infection prevention for Rochester Regional Health and a registered nurse.

The most up-to-date information on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “because of the poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely a very low risk of spread from food products or packaging.” In fact, it goes on to say that no cases of COVID-19 have been linked to people touching food or food packaging and then touching their faces.

“Some people are really scared, so if it makes them feel safer to wipe things down, then it’s important for them to do that,” said Katrina Korfmacher, a director at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Environmental Health Sciences Center. (She noted that it should be done safely, so that people don’t end up ingesting disinfectants.)

Paige Lawrence Named Deputy Editor at Environmental Health Perspectives

Thursday, July 2, 2020

On 16 June 2020, EHP welcomed three Deputy Editors, Dana Boyd Barr, Manolis Kogevinas, and Paige Lawrence, on their first official day of service in their new positions. Editor-in-Chief (EIC) Joel Kaufman, MD, MPH, introduced the new Deputy Editor role and named the appointees in a recent webinar with the Board of Associate Editors

As recognized leaders in their respective disciplines of exposure science, environmental epidemiology, and experimental toxicology, the Deputy Editors will act as ambassadors to colleagues in their scientific communities to ensure that EHP continues to publish the most influential environmental health research. With a wealth of leadership, editorial, and peer review experience at EHP and other journals, the new Deputy Editors are expected to complement existing editorial workflows. 

Working closely with the EIC and EHP Science Editors, they will evaluate new and revised manuscripts, participate in triage and interim editorial decisions, and collaborate with Associate Editors to oversee peer review. The Deputy Editors will also provide leadership for the consideration of submissions in their areas of expertise.

The new Deputy Editor role represents the next step in changes to the journal’s operating structure that began when Joel assumed the EIC role in February 2020. As the first offsite EIC, Joel maintains his faculty position at the University of Washington while serving the journal. 

Read More: Paige Lawrence Named Deputy Editor at Environmental Health Perspectives

2020 Tox Student Awards Announced

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Although our annual Retreat and Awards Banquet were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we would still like to acknowledge the excellent work of our trainees.  Please congratulate this year’s recipients of the Toxicology Training Program awards:

Weiss Toxicology Scholar awards:  Timothy Anderson (pre-doctoral); Thivanka Muthumalage, PhD (post-doctoral)

Tim is a student in Dr. Deborah Cory-Slechta’s laboratory.  He is studying the toxicokinetics of paraquat that is delivered via inhalation exposure and its associated neurobehavioral effects.  This work has important implications for commonly-used agricultural pesticides. Thivanka is mentored by Dr. Irfan Rahman and studies cellular stress responses and lung injury following exposures to e-cigarette aerosols or specific components that are used in vaping.  Both of these individuals are engaged, highly productive young scientists and exhibit strong leadership inside and outside of their respective laboratories.

Robert N. Infurna award for best scientific publication:  Christina Post (pre-doctoral); Qixin Wang, PhD (post-doctoral)

Post CM, Boule LA, Burke CG, O'Dell CT, Winans B, Lawrence BP. The ancestral environment shapes antiviral CD8+ T cell responses across generations. iScience. 20:168-183, 2019.

This paper describes transgenerational impacts of an environmental toxicant, TCDD, on innate and adaptive immunity. This work was a complex, large undertaking and has significant implications for the way that we think about who is impacted by environmental exposures.

Wang Q, Khan NA, Muthumalage T, Lawyer GR, McDonough SR, Chuang TD, Gong M, Sundar IK, Rehan VK, Rahman I.  Dysregulated repair and inflammatory responses by E-cigarette-derived inhaled nicotine and humectant propylene glycol in a sex-dependent manner in mouse lung.  FASEB Bioadv 1(10): 609-623, 2019.

This paper combines in vivo and in vitro approaches to characterize the impact of e-cigarette vapors in the lungs upon acute inhalation exposure.  In addition to demonstrating the pro-inflammatory effects of nicotine in lung, which is not new, it also demonstrates that the commonly-used solvent (humectant) has its own effects.  It is comprehensive and timely.

Neuman award for exemplary scholarship and citizenship: Ashley Peppriell

Ashley is a mentored by Dr. Matt Rand and is studying the impacts on muscle development of methyl mercury exposure in a Drosophila model.  In addition to working hard and making great strides in the laboratory, Ashley is a volunteer extraordinaire!  She co-led the annual retreat planning team for two years, has served as a teaching assistant, is a peer mentor, and is a great ambassador for the Program.  She certainly exhibits the high level of scholarship and citizenship that defined the lives and careers of Drs. Margaret and William Neuman.

Best Question awards:  Janine Cubello and Ashley Fields

It was a tough call, so we decided to give out two awards this year!  Janine is mentored by Dr. Margot Mayer-Pröschel and studies the effects of combined lead exposure and iron deficiency on the developing brain.  Ashley’s mentor is Dr. Martha Susiarjo and her project is focused on the impact of vitamin B6 deficiency on pregnancy outcomes in the context of diabetes mellitus.


Ian Krout wins second place in the 2020 CPD/UR BEST poster competition!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Ian’s virtual poster was presented last month as part of the competition, which was judged by a broad faculty pool.  The title of the poster is "Establishing Tools to Investigate the Role of Microbes in Modulating Methylmercury Toxicokinetics".  Please offer congratulations to Ian and his co-authors, Daria Vorojeikina, Tom Scrimale, and Matt Rand.

URMC research uncovers links between COVID-19 and vaping, smoking

Monday, June 29, 2020

Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center has found evidence of why COVID-19 is worse for people who smoke and vape than for the rest of the population.

Irfan Rahman, who runs a lab at URMC that studies the effects of tobacco products on the lungs, said people who smoke and vape often have elevated levels of receptors for an enzyme called ACE2.

Those receptors also allow the novel coronavirus to enter lung cells. More receptors means more viral load, which means more severe infections, Rahman said.

“It’s pretty bad, actually,” he said.

Rahman said early evidence from novel coronavirus infections showed that smokers were particularly at risk from COVID-19, but the mechanism behind the vulnerability was unclear.

Now, Rahman and other researchers said, a growing body of evidence shows inhaling nicotine increases the lungs’ receptiveness to the virus and the lethality of the disease.

Other articles on this topic:,gain%20entry%20to%20the%20lungs.&text=Those%20receptors%20also%20allow%20the%20novel%20coronavirus%20to%20enter%20lung%20cells.

Read More: URMC research uncovers links between COVID-19 and vaping, smoking

Kadijah Abston receives this year’s Elon Huntington Hooker dissertation fellowship

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The department is excited to share the news that Kadijah Abston, MS – a fourth-year student working in Dr. Xin Li’s laboratory – has been selected to receive this year’s University of Rochester Elon Huntington Hooker dissertation fellowship.  Mr. Hooker was a graduate of the University and served as one of its trustees after founding the Hooker Chemical Company.  The award is given to support student researchers who are primarily focused on chemistry or biochemistry.  In her graduate work, Kadijah is exploring the novel hypothesis that lead can impact brain development across multiple generations via epigenetic modulations that are manifest at the level of DNA methylation changes and/or changes in small non-coding RNAs that get transmitted via the male line.  This work will provide foundational knowledge about paternal information that gets transmitted across the generations and has implications regarding the broad human health impact of a wide-spread environmental toxicant.


Please congratulate Kadijah and Xin when you see them!

Rahman Lab Highlighted in Nature

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Rahman lab has been highlighted in Nature journal for their work on discovery of exosomes in COPD. Read the article.

URMC shares tips on safe cleaning and disinfecting

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

As the area continues its phased reopening, more people will be out and about.

So how do we stay safe and make sure we are not bringing the coronavirus home after being out in the community?

News10NBC's Samantha LaRocca attended a virtual briefing with the University of Rochester Medical Center about safe disinfecting during the pandemic.

URMC experts shared the best way to safely disinfect your homes, your groceries and the products that most effective against the COVID-19 virus.

“Cleaning agents for one thing for surfaces potentially shouldn't necessarily be mixed together at all in most situations and shouldn't be applied to the skin,” Dr. Timothy Wiegand said.

“It’s a real issue and something that is happening here and you want to make sure that people use cleaners safely and avoid hurting themselves or their children,” Dr. Katrina Korfmacher said.

So what should we use at home or what can we make at home to help disinfect?

“Using bleach because properly diluted can be an effective disinfectant, especially if people are having trouble getting to the store or getting supplies because a lot of disinfectants are in short supply,” Dr. Korfmacher said. “Knowing how to properly dilute and use bleach as a disinfectant can be a good strategy. Also using more than 70% alcohol or hydrogen peroxide for different kinds of surfaces can be appropriate.”

If you are to make your own product the key is making sure the concentration is appropriate.

“Most of the guidelines you will see 1/3 of a cup of bleach per gallon of cool water,” Dr. Korfmacher said. “We actually encourage people to think of a teaspoon and a cup. And that is because it's a really small amount and it's really important to use the bleach solution within 24 hours after you make it, because it starts to degrade after that.”

Read More: URMC shares tips on safe cleaning and disinfecting

Vaping Linked to Higher Risk of Self-Reported COPD Diagnosis

Thursday, January 2, 2020

A new study reveals an elevated risk of self-reported chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — the third leading cause of death associated with smoking — among people using e-cigarettes. People who vaped were at increased risk even if they had never smoked tobacco, which casts doubt on e-cigarette companies’ claims that vaping is a safe alternative to smoking. 

According to the study, people who vaped were at a 47-percent greater risk of self-reported COPD diagnosis as compared to people in the study who did not use tobacco products. Compared to ex-smokers, people who had quit smoking and switched to e-cigarettes were 27 percent more likely to report a COPD diagnosis.

The study, published by Nicotine and Tobacco Research, is based on 2016 and 2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) national survey data of nearly one million adults. Survey participants were asked whether they had ever been diagnosed with COPD by their health-care provider.

Authors of the study, which was funded in part by the University of Rochester Clinical and Translational Science Institute (UR CTSI), the National Cancer Institute and the Food and Drug Administration, are Zidian Xie, Ph.D., Deborah J Ossip, Ph.D.Irfan Rahman, Ph.D. and Dongmei Li, Ph.D.

“It is clear, based on the large sample size of this study, that there is a significant link between vaping and self-reported COPD diagnosis in adults, even among vapers who never smoked before,” said lead study author Zidian Xie.

Senior study author Dongmei Li, an associate professor in the UR CTSI, added, “More long-term clinical research is needed to determine how e-cigarette use is related to COPD, but our findings are consistent with other recent studies showing that e-cigarette use is associated with respiratory issues.”

“This study provides further evidence that vaping simply isn’t safe,” said Deborah Ossip, a tobacco research expert and professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “We hope that people begin to heed this message, especially young people who think vaping is cool and who are enticed by the thousands of available flavors.”

Recent statistics from the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention’s National Youth Tobacco Survey demonstrated the popularity of vaping among young people in the U.S. About one of every 10 middle school students and one out of four high school students reported in 2019 that they used electronic cigarettes.

Read More: Vaping Linked to Higher Risk of Self-Reported COPD Diagnosis

Irfan Rahman Awarded Lifetime Achievement Award at NCSCA 2019

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Dean's Professor of Environmental Medicine, Irfan Rahman, Ph.D., was awarded the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award by the executive committee of the NCSCA-2019 at the 11th National Conference On Solid State Chemistry And Allied Areas (NCSCA-2019), December 20, 2019. Congratulations Dr. Rahman!

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