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2021 Tox Student Awards Announced

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Toxicology Training Program celebrated its annual Retreat and Awards Ceremony on Thursday, May 27, albeit in a virtual format. Some Program participants were not able to participate in the virtual event, so we have listed this year's awardees below so that you can congratulate the recipients the next time you see them:

Weiss Toxicology Scholar awards: Janine Cubello and Jakob Gunderson

Janine's project focuses on the impact of iron deficiency on lead accumulation in specific regions of the brain and the role that astrocytes play in this process. She is also generous with her time in the lab, specifically in mentoring new students. Janine is mentored by Dr. Margot Mayer-Pröschel. Jakob's project focuses on the role of the Drosophila Nrf2 homologue in modulating the toxicity of methyl mercury during neuronal and muscle development. Jakob also dedicates his time to volunteer and advocacy activities.

Robert N. Infurna award for best scientific publication: Ashley Fields and Tim Anderson

Fields AM, Welle K, Ho ES, Mesaros C, Susiarjo M. Vitamin B6 deficiency disrupts serotonin signaling in pancreatic islets and induces gestational diabetes in mice. Commun Biol. 4(1):421, 2021.

This paper describes the application of a novel mouse model of mild, human health-relevant Vitamin B6 deficiency -- which Ashley developed -- to examine how the consequent reduction in serotonin and serotonin signaling impact maternal glucose status. It was discovered that B6 deficiency reduced pancreatic beta cell proliferation and insulin resistance.

Anderson T, Merrill AK, Eckard ML, Marvin E, Conrad K, Welle K, Oberdörster G, Sobolewski M, Cory-Slechta DA. Paraquat Inhalation, a Translationally Relevant Route of Exposure: Disposition to the Brain and Male-Specific Olfactory Impairment in Mice. Toxicol Sci. 80(1):175-185, 2021.

In this paper, a novel inhalation exposure method was employed to deliver paraquat to mice, mimicking one important route by which this widely-used and lung- and neurotoxic pesticide can enter the bodies of agricultural workers. Paraquat was found to distribute to various brain regions -- with high tissue concentrations in the olfactory bulb -- and to be retained there for at least one month following exposure. Male-dominant deficiencies in olfactory discrimination were also found with paraquat exposure.

Neuman award for exemplary scholarship and citizenship: Ian Krout

Ian is mentored by Dr. Matthew Rand on a project that focuses on the role of the gut microbiome in modulating methyl mercury toxicokinetics and toxicity via demethylation. Ian exemplifies the spirit of the Drs. Neuman in terms of scholarship and engagement as a graduate student citizen of the University of Rochester. He is an excellent ambassador of our program and is making great strides with his science. Some highlights of Ian's activities outside of the lab include his efforts in planning this Retreat, his service as the Program Student Representative, service as TA, and service during the pandemic as a contact tracer and Help Line volunteer for LifeSpan.

Best Question award: Alyssa Merrill

Alyssa's mentor is Dr. Marissa Sobolewski and her project is focused on the effects of endocrine disrupting compounds on both fetal and maternal health following gestational exposure.

Congratulations to all of the awardees!!

Wastewater Surveillance Effective in Efforts to Detect COVID on College Campuses

Monday, May 17, 2021

Wastewater monitoring is a promising tool for COVID-19 surveillance, according to a new paper published in the International Journal of Environmental Public Health. Researchers from the University of Rochester co-led this study, which synthesizes initial wastewater surveillance efforts at 25 colleges and universities from across the country, including St. John Fisher College. Wastewater monitoring helped these colleges detect, contain and prevent wider spread of COVID infection and the findings could provide a blueprint for other institutions -- like nursing homes, workplaces, and jails -- and inform community efforts to monitor for COVID and other infectious diseases.

People infected with COVID may shed the virus in their feces even if they have no symptoms. Although the SARS-CoV-2 virus is not known to survive long in wastewater, genetic material from the virus can be detected in sewage for many days. Therefore, measuring the amount of this material in sewage can provide an early indicator of infection trends in the population.

State- and national-level systems for wastewater surveillance at municipal wastewater treatment plants are rapidly developing. Many municipalities in New York have monitored their wastewater. Monroe County conducted sampling between July and December 2020 at Frank E. Van Lare Wastewater Treatment Plant. Meanwhile, colleges and universities across the country have been integrating wastewater surveillance into their ongoing efforts to manage COVID on their campuses, including St. John Fisher College and the Rochester Institute of Technology.

The study of colleges' experiences with wastewater monitoring was co-led by Katrina Smith Korfmacher, Ph.D., professor and director of the Community Engagement Core of the Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and Sasha Harris-Lovett, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow and external relations specialist for the Berkeley Water Center, at the University of California Berkeley. Todd Camenisch, Ph.D., professor and chair at Wegmans School of Pharmacy at St. John Fisher College, was a co-author.

The paper draws on the efforts of more than two dozen colleges in states across the country to characterize, compare and identify lessons learned during the fall 2020 academic period. The study found a wide variety of approaches have been developed, ranging from sampling once a week to daily, and from one to over 50 sites on campus. These differences were shaped by institutions' financial and technical resources, physical characteristics of their campus infrastructure and decision support needs.

Read More: Wastewater Surveillance Effective in Efforts to Detect COVID on College Campuses

Grant Recognizes National Leadership in Environmental Health Disparities Research

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The University of Rochester Environmental Health Sciences Center (EHSC) has received a $7.7 million, five-year renewal grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS). The grant marks five decades of federal support for research that has helped expand our understanding of how exposure to environmental agents, such as heavy metals, air and water pollution, and pesticides, impact human health.

The EHSC -- which is led by B. Paige Lawrence, Ph.D., the Wright Family Research professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Medicine -- has been continuously funded by the NIEHS since 1975. This Center has attracted more than $100 million in extramural funding since its inception. Rochester is one of only 26 NIEHS-designated core Centers-of-Excellence in environmental health research in the U.S.

The Center supports broad portfolio of research programs that range from lab-based science that investigates the biological mechanisms by which environmental chemicals contribute to disease, to population-based studies that inform and improve public health. The EHSC provides researchers with integrated access to specialized resources and facilities, and supports programs that promote career development and leadership for the next generation of environmental health investigators. The EHSC is also home to a Community Engagement Core, which works closely with community organizations, government, educators, and health professionals to address environmental health issues through outreach, advocacy and allyship.

Read More: Grant Recognizes National Leadership in Environmental Health Disparities Research

Don’t Go Fracking My Heart

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Study Links Hydraulic Fracking with Increased Risk of Heart Attack Hospitalization, Death

The Marcellus Formation straddles the New York State and Pennsylvania border, a region that shares similar geography and population demographics. However, on one side of the state line unconventional natural gas development -- or fracking -- is banned, while on the other side it represents a multi-billion dollar industry. New research takes advantage of this 'natural experiment' to examine the health impacts of fracking and found that people who live in areas with a high concentration of wells are at higher risk for heart attacks.

"Fracking is associated with increased acute myocardial infarction hospitalization rates among middle-aged men, older men and older women as well as with increased heart attack-related mortality among middle-aged men," said Elaine Hill, Ph.D., an associate professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Public Health Sciences, and senior author of the study that appears in the journal Environmental Research. "Our findings lend support for increased awareness about cardiovascular risks of unconventional natural gas development and scaled-up heart attack prevention, as well as suggest that bans on hydraulic fracturing can be protective for public health."

Natural gas extraction, including hydraulic fracking, is a well-known contributor to air pollution. Fracking wells operate around the clock and the process of drilling, gas extraction, and flaring -- the burning off of natural gas byproducts -- release organic compounds, nitrogen oxide, and other chemicals and particulates into the air. Additionally, each well requires the constant transportation of equipment, water, and chemicals, as well as the removal of waste water from the fracking process, further contributing to air pollution levels. Fracking wells remain in operation for several years, prolonging exposure to people who work at the wells sites and those who live nearby.

Read More: Don’t Go Fracking My Heart

Dr. Irfan Rahman is Our Pandemic Hero!

Friday, April 23, 2021

Gagandeep Kaur

The year 2020 has been extremely challenging for the world at large. Like lot of other job areas, it had special implications for students and trainees in science. In addition to the obvious fear about the unknown virus, the inability to perform regular lab experiments due to the lockdown and uncertainty about future funding or job security left everyone in a state of dilemma about their futures.

These uncertain times called for 'Unusual Heroes' to step-up and provide help, assurance and guidance to their teams. One such 'Hero' has been Dr. Irfan Rahman, a professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care at URMC.

Dr. Rahman recruited human volunteers (smokers and vapers) constantly during the pandemic period after the pause to continue the ongoing studies funded by the NIH. This allowed our lab members to continue the studies on Covid19 susceptibility, which led to generating data for publications and NIH grant submissions.

It was the brave and unrelenting efforts by Dr. Rahman to constantly provide us biospecimens during the pandemic time to study the susceptibility factors for better understanding of Covid-19 infection.

Dr. Rahman has held several honors and accolades to attest his merit even prior to this pandemic. He is ranked as the 16th Respiratory Medicine Researcher in the world (Plos Biology). His expertise in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Fibrosis, Asthma, and Acute Lung Injury due to environmental toxicants is highly acclaimed locally and internationally. His lab has been well-funded by the National Institutes of Health (NHLBI, NIEHS, NCI, NIDA) with over 16 grants to his credit to date. Dr. Rahman has been recognized as the pioneer of oxidative stress-mediated lung injury due to tobacco smoke exposure. He is the Director of the Center for Inhalation and Flavoring Toxicological Research at URMC, a specialized facility with state-of-the-art technology and instruments dedicated to research related to e-cigarette-use and vaping associated lung injury. Dr. Rahman has a prolific career with over 400 publications (h-index 102; Google Scholar) and his trainees and students publish over 10 publications each year in highly recognized scientific journals such as JCI, JEV, PNAS, Nature, AJRCCM, Journal of immunology under his mentorship.

However, what was impressive was he kept pushing the envelope during the pandemic as well, reassuring his entire team and making them feel productive. Consequently, despite many setbacks, last year had many moments for the Rahman lab to cherish and celebrate professionally. Considering his expertise in pulmonary research, he stepped up to the need-of-the-hour and put his team to work on COVID-19 and its health implications on smokers and e-cigarette users. In fact, his efforts and research findings were lauded by the University of Rochester and he was featured in the University news several times last year (https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/labs/rahman/news.aspx). One of his postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Gagandeep Kaur showcased her work on susceptibility to COVID-19 in tobacco smokers as a Guest Speaker for a webinar organized by IRSS at Society of Toxicology, gaining national and international recognition. This shows that Dr. Rahman prefers to showcase his team's abilities more than his own to help them shine and excel in their careers. He has provided his postdoctoral trainees with opportunities to be guest speakers for national webinars, teach courses and be a guest lecturer at other universities as a part of their overall training.

As the mentor of five postdoctoral fellows currently and various others in the past, he has shown immense enthusiasm for sharing his expertise in pulmonary toxicology to help his team succeed to be better prepared for the next stage in their careers. Many of his former trainees, Drs. Yao and Sundar, are now well-established faculty members in reputed Universities such as Brown University and the University of Kansas with their own R01 grants. Others have gained successful employment in industry and regulatory agencies.

Adding to the list of accomplishments last year, a current postdoctoral fellow at Dr. Rahman's lab, Dr. Qixin Wang, has been highlighted in AJRCMB in December 2020 for his research on transgenerational prenatal e-cig exposure. Dr. Rahman has mentored his postdoctoral fellows, such as Drs. Thivanka Muthumalage and Qixin Wang to prepare for their careers as young scientists by guiding them with unwavering support for their recently awarded pilot projects (2019-2021) as well as K99/R00 (NIH pathway to independence Award) which they submitted earlier this year. As a graduate student mentor in the Department of Environmental Medicine, he has shared the responsibilities of guiding graduate students and helping them to be successful in their research interests and projects. Thomas Lamb, one of his mentored grad-students, has won the best poster award at the CROFT annual meeting in 2020. Further, Dr. Rahman is also helping at the local societal level to recognize the risk of e-cig vaping by providing lectures at high schools by participating in outreach programs.

All the post-docs are involved in collaborative projects, which assists in their team building and networking skills Our post-doctoral fellows, Drs. Muthumalage, Wang, and Kaur have worked on collaborative projects with other institutes such as the NY Department of Health, NYU, SUNY, and UCLA. The postdocs and graduate students in Rahman's lab are encouraged to participate in national and international conferences, including the Society of Toxicology (SOT), the American Thoracic Society (ATS), Experimental Biology, the Society of Research in Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT) annual meetings. Considering the betterment of his students, all the members in the lab were encouraged to participate in most of the virtual meetings last year which added a bit of normalcy to an otherwise tumultuous year. It was also uplifting as many of us got recognized (win awards) for our presentations and were able to interact with our peers all across the country to get feedback on our work. Current postdocs mentored by Dr. Rahman have achieved a new height in their career. Gagandeep Kaur. Ph.D., current postdoc supervised by Dr. Rahman, has won the Inhalation and Respiratory Specialty Section (IRSS) best postdoc award (2021) as well as the poster award at Center for Research on Flavored Tobacco (CROFT) annual meeting (2020), within a year of gaining his mentorship.

Dr. Rahman encourages the post-docs to review scientific papers and has one-on-one discussions with them to help them build their scientific acumen and providing them with insights that only years of experience could guarantee. However, during the pandemic he upped his effort by holding regular lab meetings discussing recent literature, previous results and future strategies with the team. Many of the students and post-docs were encouraged to review literature and complete the still pending manuscripts during this time. Owing to his constant encouragement, we published 20 articles in reputed journals last year. His mentored undergraduate students have excelled and have secured their medical school admissions at prestigious institutes such as Harvard and Duke. Our lab has always welcomed students and trainees of color and minorities with the highest respect, collegiality, and professionalism. Dr. Rahman is empathetic and helpful for the needs of his team and accommodates their concerns to maintain an environment of respect and discipline in the lab while ensuring success for all. He is always available to help juniors and learners and provides honest feedback to help them excel.

Ioannidis JPA, Boyack KW, Baas J (2020) Updated science-wide author databases of standardized citation indicators. PLoS Biol 18(10): e3000918. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000918

Ian Krout wins the People’s Choice award for SOT’s 3 Minute Thesis, 2nd place in the University of Rochester's 3 Minute Thesis Competitions

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Ian

Ian Krout

Congratulations to Ian Krout for winning the People's Choice award for SOT's 3 Minute Thesis and 2nd place in the University of Rochester's 3 Minute Thesis Competitions! Krout is a 3rd year Toxicology student, in Matt Rand's Lab, whose interests lie in both methylmercury toxicity as well as the gut microbiomes role in the field of toxicology. His research is focused on elucidating the microbial mechanisms of the gut that give rise to inter-individual differences in methylmercury elimination from person to person. It is focused on investigating the bacterial species at play in the microbiome, the mechanisms used for biotransformation, and what this means for the overall elimination rate and subsequent toxicity of differing mercury compounds.

Congrats Ian!

Paige Lawrence Awarded the Outstanding Senior Immunotoxicologist Award at SOT

Monday, April 5, 2021

Paige Lawrence

Dr. B. Paige Lawrence

At this year's Society of Toxicology meeting, Dr. B. Paige Lawrence was awarded the Outstanding Senior Immunotoxicologist Award presented by the Immunotoxicology Specialty Section (ISS). The award is given to a Senior Investigator whose work has made significant contributions to the field of Immunotoxicology. Dr. Lawrence is Professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental Medicine and Director of the Environmental Health Sciences Center. Her research addresses problems of human health and how our environment influences our health. Much of her work focuses on the impact of pollutants on our ability to fight infections, such as influenza viruses. Other work centers on understanding how signals from the environment affect proper development in early life, and how these developmental changes adversely impact health later in life.

She is a member of the Society of Toxicology, American Association of Immunologists, and American Association for the Advancement of Scientists, and currently serves on the Editorial Boards for Toxicological Sciences, Toxicology, The American Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, The Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, and The American Journal of Reproductive Immunology and in 2020 was named one of three deputy editors of Environmental Health Perspectives. She provides peer review service to the National Institutes of Health and to other research organizations and agencies.

Congratulations, Paige!

Lab model offers hope for macular degeneration patients

Monday, March 29, 2021

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which leads to a loss of central vision, is the most frequent cause of blindness in adults 50 years of age or older, affecting an estimated 196 million people worldwide. There is no cure, though treatment can slow the onset and preserve some vision.

Recently, however, researchers at the University of Rochester have made an important breakthrough in the quest for an AMD cure. Their first three-dimensional (3D) mimics the part of the human retina affected in macular degeneration.

Their combines stem cell-derived and vascular networks from with bioengineered in a three-dimensional "matrix." Notably, using patient-derived 3D retinal tissue allowed the researchers to investigate the underlying mechanisms involved in advanced neovascular macular degeneration, the wet form of macular degeneration, which is the more debilitating and blinding form of the disease.

The researchers have also demonstrated that wet-AMD-related changes in their human retina model could be targeted with drugs.

"Once we have validated this over a large sample, the next hope would be to develop rational drug therapies and potentially even test the efficacy of a specific drug to work for individual patients," says Ruchira Singh, an associate professor of ophthalmology at the University's Flaum Eye Institute.

The lab of Danielle Benoit, professor of biomedical engineering and director of the Materials Science Program, engineered the synthetic materials for the matrix and helped configure it, as described in a paper in Cell Stem Cell.

Read More: Lab model offers hope for macular degeneration patients

Deborah Cory-Slechta Receives the 2021 SOT Distinguished Toxicology Scholar Award

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Deborah Cory-Slechta, PhD, has been awarded the 2021 SOT Distinguished Toxicology Scholar Award in honor of her scientific achievements and contributions to public health in the fields of environmental health sciences and toxicology.

Dr. Cory-Slechta is currently a Professor of environmental medicine, pediatrics, and public health sciences at the University of Rochester Medical Center, where she trains and mentors a number of scholastically recognized students via hands-on, project-oriented teaching, as well as offering support and mentorship to junior faculty members. She also is the Deputy Director of the Environmental Health Sciences Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Dr. Cory-Slechta is a world-renowned behavioral psychologist and neurotoxicologist, and her work has provided mechanistic support for understanding the consequences of lead exposure in developing animals and humans. Her studies combine powerful hypothesis-generating screening tools with rigorous hypothesis-driven research questions to systematically test xenobiotic-induced neurotoxicity. Dr. Cory-Slechta has championed behavioral batteries for the assessment of neurotoxicity, developing new methodologies and asserting the importance of early changes in behavior as markers of aberrant neurodevelopment and neurotoxicity. She developed sensitive behavioral tasks to enable translation and validation of her animal work to human populations, which has significantly contributed to the recognition that levels of lead exposure previously thought of as safe are likely causing damage to children, particularly those that have additional risk factors. Dr. Cory-Slechta's studies have led to a paradigm shift and recognition by federal agencies of the necessity to include developmental neurotoxicity studies in the assessment of ill effects of xenobiotics, particularly as they pertain to the nervous system.

Dr. Cory-Slechta's scientific influence is demonstrated by an enormous number of invited research presentations worldwide as well as her sustained publication repertoire, which includes over 190 published manuscripts in high-impact journals. In addition, her laboratory since its establishment has received continual funding by the National Institutes of Health, a testament to her outstanding leadership and research.

Since joining SOT in 1983, Dr. Cory-Slechta has served as Chair of the SOT Awards Committee; as a member of the Education and Nominating Committees; as Councilor of the Metals Specialty Section; and as Councilor and President of the Neurotoxicology Specialty Section. Her efforts were recognized through her receipt of the 2017 Neurotoxicology Specialty Section Distinguished Neurotoxicologist Award. In addition to service to SOT, Dr. Cory-Slechta is on the Editorial Boards of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, Toxicology, and NeuroToxicology and is a reviewer for a multitude of study sections for the National Institutes of Health, US Environmental Protection Agency, and other granting bodies, among numerous other institutional commitments.

Congratulations, Debbie!

Read More: Deborah Cory-Slechta Receives the 2021 SOT Distinguished Toxicology Scholar Award

Inhaled paraquat enters brain, impairs sense of smell in male mice

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Researchers funded by NIEHS reported that inhalation of the widely used pesticide paraquat reduced the sense of smell in male mice for several months after exposure. Moreover, the chemical entered the brain and other tissues. These results underscore the importance of studying the effects of inhalation of neurotoxicants, to protect public health.

Loss of sense of smell, or olfactory impairment, is an early sign of Parkinson's disease. The findings, published Dec. 29, 2020, in the journal Toxicological Sciences, suggest paraquat may contribute to such neurodegenerative diseases.

Researchers at the University of Rochester modeled an inhalation of low concentrations of paraquat. Using the university's Inhalation Core facility, they exposed mice to aerosolized paraquat. The team then measured levels of the pesticide in lung, kidney, and four regions of the brain — olfactory bulb, striatum, midbrain, and cerebellum.

"Inhalation can provide a direct route of entry to the brain," explained first author Timothy Anderson. "If you inhale something and it goes into your nose, it can actually enter the neurons responsible for sense of smell, and travel into the brain." Anderson is a graduate student at the University of Rochester lab of Deborah Cory-Slechta, Ph.D.,where the study was conducted. Cory-Slechta is deputy director of the university's NIEHS-funded Environmental Health Sciences Center.

Co-author Kevin Welle measured the highest brain levels in the olfactory bulb, suggesting paraquat entered the brain through nasal-olfactory neurons.

"The sex-dependent olfactory impairment observed after paraquat [PQ] inhalation exposure is intriguing and parallels important features of Parkinson's disease [PD], including early loss of sense of smell and greater prevalence in males," said Jonathan Hollander, Ph.D.,health scientist administrator in the NIEHS Genes, Environment, and Health Branch. Hollander oversees research grants for neurodegenerative diseases and other areas.

"Given that paraquat is a known risk factor for PD, and inhalation is a prevalent source of exposure, this study may lead to a more useful animal model of PQ-induced neurodegeneration," he added.

Read More: Inhaled paraquat enters brain, impairs sense of smell in male mice

Ashley Rackow Publishes her first paper “The self-fulfilling prophecy of pulmonary fibrosis: a selective inspection of pathological signalling loops” in ERJ

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Congratulations to Ashley Rackow for her first authored publication "The self-fulfilling prophecy of pulmonary fibrosis: a selective inspection of pathological signalling loops", published in the European Respiratory Journal in November 2020. This review article summarizes how normal wound healing pathways become corrupted in lung fibrosis, and outlines new ways to think about therapeutic interventions.

Read More: Ashley Rackow Publishes her first paper “The self-fulfilling prophecy of pulmonary fibrosis: a selective inspection of pathological signalling loops” in ERJ