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Air pollution might be the new lead

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Sometimes air pollution is easy to see. It billows off the top of smoke stacks, and out the tailpipes of cars zooming down the highway. Misty smog hangs in the air in cities like Delhi, Beijing, and Los Angeles, fracturing sunlight into a muted haze.

Most of the time, though, dirty air just looks like air. About 92 percent of the world’s population, and more than half the people in the United States, live in areas with unhealthy air quality. The World Health Organization calls air pollution the world’s “largest single environmental health risk,” and it leads to the premature deaths of millions annually. It’s a major public health problem for reasons you might expect: breathing in dirty air isn’t good for your lungs, and the the connection between the lungs and the cardiovascular system means it puts pressure on your heart, too.

But it’s increasingly clear that the effects of air pollution aren’t constrained to body parts below the shoulders—they can hurt the brain in a whole host of ways, many of which researchers are still trying to understand. One major area of interest? The way exposure to polluted air can affect the cognitive development of babies and children. Researchers aren’t shocked to find that an environmental toxin could harm young brains, because they’ve seen it happen before.

“To me, air pollution is kind of the next lead, in a way,” says

Read More: Air pollution might be the new lead

NIEHS eFactor Features Susiarjo's Lecture

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

susiarjo

Imprinted genes and how their interactions with environmental chemicals can affect maternal and fetal health was the focus of a talk by Martha Susiarjo, Ph.D., from the University of Rochester. She spoke March 21 as part of the NIEHS Keystone Science Lecture Seminar Series.

Imprinted genes are those in which the copy from one parent is silenced through epigenetic modifications, which are changes to DNA that affect the function of genes but not the underlying DNA sequence.

“Although imprinted genes represent a small portion of the mammalian genome, they play a critical role during early development,” said Susiarjo. “We are working to understand how epigenetic markers mediate these effects and how gene-environment interactions can reprogram development of the fetus.”

Fred Tyson, Ph.D., a program director in the NIEHS Genes Environment and Health Branch, hosted the talk. “It was exciting to learn more about Susiarjo’s innovative work as an early-stage investigator,” said Tyson. “Her research is revealing new information about how epigenetic regulation of genes contributes to early development, and how environmental chemicals may alter this process.”

Read More: NIEHS eFactor Features Susiarjo's Lecture

E-cigarettes don’t need nicotine to be toxic

Friday, March 30, 2018

vaping liquids

Think electronic cigarettes without nicotine are harmless? Think again. A new study shows that the flavorings in e-cigs can harm human infection-fighting cells.

E-cigarettes work by heating a flavored liquid to make a mist that users inhale, or “vape.” These flavored liquids, called e-liquids, usually contain nicotine. But not always. Manufacturers add nicotine for vapers who want a buzz from their e-cigarettes. It’s the same stimulant that true cigarettes deliver. That nicotine — made from tobacco — qualifies most e-cigs as “tobacco products.”

The nicotine may be useful for adults who are addicted to cigarettes and want to wean themselves off. But nicotine can harm children and teens. That’s why some young people may choose to vape instead of smoke, and use nicotine-free products. But the new data suggest that e-cigs can still be toxic, even without nicotine.

“We know these flavors are really attractive to teens,” says Irfan Rahman. He works at the University of Rochester in New York. He says studies have shown that one reason many teens try e-cigarettes is an interest in fruity and candy-flavored products.

vaping liquids

Researchers used this machine to mechanically “vape” e-liquids. The researchers then measured harmful chemicals that had been released into the air. (Photo Courtesy of Irfan Rahman)

As a toxicologist, Rahman studies whether various materials can poison the body’s cells or tissues. His team decided to test whether certain flavored e-liquids are toxic (meaning poisonous). They tested several common e-liquid flavorings. These included cinnamon roll, cotton candy, melon, pineapple, coconut and cherry.

Such flavorings are considered safe in foods. That’s because after a person swallows them, they’re broken down in the gut. But that doesn’t mean these same chemicals are safe to breathe in. They could harm parts of the respiratory tract, such as the lungs.

Rahman’s team didn’t expose people to these flavorings, in case they were harmful. Instead, they tested e-liquid chemicals on human cells in a dish. This helped them judge whether the chemicals might also harm cells inside the body.

The answer: Some of the vaped flavorings did prove toxic to those cells. The researchers published their findings in the January Frontiers in Physiology.

Read More: E-cigarettes don’t need nicotine to be toxic

Dr. Rahman Invited To Speak at Tobacco 21 Forum

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Rahman

Irfan Rahman addresses the crowd at the Tobacco 21 Forum

On March 21st at the Thomas P Ryan R-Center, 530 Webster Avenue in Rochester, NY, Dr. Irfan Rahman participated in the Kick Butts Day Point of Sale & Tobacco 21 Forum. The event was organized to address tobacco’s impact on youth & the community as well as research and evidence-based policy solutions.

Dr. Rahman's talk was on Local Youth Impact & E-cigarette Usage.

The goals and objectives of the event were:

Goals:

  • Develop knowledge that will more fully equip community members and leaders to create healthier and safer approaches to protecting local populations from the dangers of tobacco use
  • Improve awareness of the interconnectedness between tobacco-related influences: social, economic, public health, and youth-based impacts

Objectives:

As a result of the forum, participants will be able to:

  • Engage community leaders and organizations on present tobacco-related health disparities
  • Comprehend Tobacco 21 efforts and emerging trends toward this movement
  • Understand e-cigarette research and data to better educate our county parents and adolescents
  • Recognize tobacco marketing and retailer density consequences on our youth, communities, and neighborhoods
  • Become knowledgeable of effective evidence-based policy solutions on the local level

Rahman To Be Featured Guest on European Science TV Series "Xenius"

Thursday, March 22, 2018

On Monday March 26th, Dr. Irfan Rahman will be the featured guest on the renowned European TV science series ARTE's Xenius (Science Made Easy). This episode of the series features e-cigarette fluids and about the latest research about their possible health risks.

As a result of Dr. Rahman's scientific insights and ongoing studies about chemicals in e-cigarette flavours and possible health issues that are caused by them, the show's director, Nils Otte, reached out to Irfan to be on the show to discuss his research and the effects of e-cigarettes.

International Partners in Seychelles Study Gather in Rochester

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

By Mark Michaud

More than three decades of research in the Seychelles have consistently shown that high levels of fish consumption by pregnant mothers do not produce developmental problems in their children. The international team of researchers behind this study, one of the largest and longest population studies of its kind, is meeting this week in Rochester.

The Seychelles Child Development Study has transformed scientists’ understanding of the relationship between the consumption of fish rich in nutrients necessary for brain development and the possible harmful effects of mercury also found in fish. The study’s findings have global implications – fish represent the main source of protein for much of the world’s population – and challenge the long-promulgated advice of many organizations that expecting mothers moderate fish consumption during pregnancy.

“This study is a truly international and interdisciplinary collaboration that demonstrates how the combination of rigorous science and a commitment to taking the long view can help us answer important questions related to health, diet, and child development,” said Edwin van Wijngaarden, Ph.D., a professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center’s (URMC) Department of Public Health Sciences who leads the Seychelles Child Development Study.

The Seychelles, a cluster of islands in the Indian Ocean, has proven to be the ideal location to examine the potential health impact of persistent low-level mercury exposure. The nation’s 90,000 residents consume a wide variety of ocean fish at a rate 10 times greater than the populations of the U.S. and Europe. The island nation also possesses universal and free health care and education and is largely free of the industrial development that could serve as a source of pollution.

Read More: International Partners in Seychelles Study Gather in Rochester

Is Vaping Safer Than Smoking?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

After e-cigarettes first emerged in 2004, they quickly became a popular, "healthier" alternative for those who wanted the feeling of smoking tobacco. This could be one of the reasons for the steady, continued decline of cigarette smoking in the United States. While nearly 42 percent of the population were smokers during the Mad Men era of the mid-60s, the figure dropped to around 17 percent in recent years.

While studies acknowledge vaping has far less of an impact on health compared to smoking, experts also cautioned long-term studies still can't make solid conclusions as the alternative has been in use for only a little more than a decade. Growing evidence from research, however, suggested we are just beginning to see the potential consequences.

In 2015, a letter from the New England Journal of Medicine expressed concern over formaldehyde, a toxic compound found in the vapors produced by e-cigarettes. While researchers are still studying its link to cancer, formaldehyde is known to cause irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, and throat.

Irfan Rahman, professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester, led the first study to examine the impact of e-cigarettes on oral health.

"We showed that when the vapors from an e-cigarette are burned, it causes cells to release inflammatory proteins, which in turn aggravate stress within cells, resulting in damage that could lead to various oral diseases," he said.

This year, he was one of the authors of a study that examined artificial flavors for inducing tissue damage and having a toxic effect on white blood cells, with the worst impact coming from cinnamon, vanilla, and buttery flavored e-juices. There are around 250 harmful chemicals found in traditional cigarettes while the number is significantly reduced in vaping. But the presence of nicotine still poses a threat (particularly risk of heart disease) in its concentrated, e-liquid form.

Read More: Is Vaping Safer Than Smoking?

Flavored E-Cigarette Liquid May Harm Lungs Even Without Nicotine, Study Suggests

Monday, February 12, 2018

By Lisa Rapaport (Reuters Health)

E-cigarette liquids sweetened with flavorings like vanilla and cinnamon may harm the lungs even when they don’t contain nicotine, a U.S. study suggests.

Researchers examined what happened to monocytes, a type of white blood cell, upon exposure to flavoring chemicals used in popular e-cigarette liquids. None of the liquids contained nicotine, but the flavoring chemicals still appeared to increase biomarkers for inflammation and tissue damage, and many of them also caused cells to die.

Over time, this type of cell damage can lead to wide range of lung problems including fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and asthma, said senior study author Irfan Rahman, an environmental health researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center in upstate New York.

“Nicotine-free e-liquids have generally been considered safe; however, the impact of flavoring chemicals, especially on immune cells, has not been widely researched,” Rahman said by email. “This study shows that even though flavoring compounds are considered safe for ingestion, it is not safe for inhalation.”

Read More: Flavored E-Cigarette Liquid May Harm Lungs Even Without Nicotine, Study Suggests

E-Cigarette Flavors Are Toxic to White Blood Cells, Warn Scientists

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A new study led by the Rahman lab and first author, Toxicology post-doctoral researcher, Dr. Thivanka Muthumalage, adds to growing evidence on the harmful health effects of e-cigarettes. Currently, the article has been viewed over 16,500 times (in just one day) and several news sources have written articles and reported about it across the globe.

The paper has been so well received that it is currently ranked in the top 5% of all research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric.

The study has revealed another potential health risk of e-cigarettes, finding that the chemicals used to flavour e-cigarette liquids are toxic to white blood cells. The study wanted to test the assumption that nicotine-free flavoured e-liquids are safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes, looking at what effect e-cigs might have on the immune system.

To do this the researchers directly exposed a type of white blood cell called monocytes, which help the body fight infection, to e-liquids. They found that e-cigarette flavoring chemicals and liquids can cause significant inflammation to monocytes, with many of the flavouring chemicals also causing significant cell death. Some flavours were found to be more harmful than others, with cinnamon, vanilla, and buttery flavours among the worst.

The researchers also found that mixing e-cigarette flavours has a much worse effect than exposure to just one flavour and caused the most toxicity to white blood cells.

The study's first author, Dr. Thivanka Muthumalage, commented on the findings, saying that although these flavouring compounds may be safe for ingestion, the results show they are not safe for inhalation and add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that e-cigarettes are harmful to health. Previous research has also found that the flavors used in e-cigarettes cause inflammatory and oxidative stress responses in lung cells.

Senior author Dr. Irfan Rahman expressed concern: “Our scientific findings show that e-liquid flavors can, and should, be regulated and that e-juice bottles must have a descriptive listing of all ingredients. We urge regulatory agencies to act to protect public health,” he said, also warning that, “alluring flavour names, such as candy, cake, cinnamon roll and mystery mix, attract young vapers.”

The team are now planning further research and are calling for further long-term human studies to understand better the harmful effects of e-cigarettes. The findings can be found published online in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.

To learn more please read the following articles:

Remembering a Pioneer of Environmental Health Science

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

By Pete Myers, Richard Stahlhut, Joan Cranmer, Steven Gilbert, Shanna Swan

Colleagues honor Bernard "Bernie" Weiss (1925-2018)—a remarkable scientist, thinker, visionary and writer


One rarely is lucky enough to drive the early evolution of a new scientific discipline, but Bernard (Bernie) Weiss was there, always at the forefront as the field of behavioral toxicology took shape.


And along with the many students he inspired, he remained there throughout his career. Blending psychology, toxicology, and technology, Bernie Weiss shaped this discipline using new methods to explore the subtle, and not so subtle, effects of environmental chemicals on behavior and the nervous system.

He was a remarkable scientist, thinker, visionary, and writer. Bernie Weiss passed away on the morning of January 22, 2018.

Bernie was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1925 and served in the Air Force from 1944-45. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from New York University in 1949, and a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology in 1953 from the University of Rochester. From Rochester, he took a job at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, but was recruited back to University of Rochester in 1965 by Dr. Harold Hodge to explore the behavioral consequences of exposure to toxicants, such as inorganic mercury vapor.

Bernie was a pioneer. In the 1960s he was one of the first to use LINC (Laboratory Instrument Computer) and Digital Equipment Computer (DEC). Computer systems would later allow researchers to perform incredibly complex experiments and collect data at a level of detail never before imagined, thereby revealing subtle effects of chemicals on behavior.

Bernie's lab led the way in computer-controlled experiments in behavioral toxicology, as well as to assess the effects of low levels of drugs and metals on the sensory systems of vision, touch and hearing. Many of these testing capabilities were transferred to and shared with other research laboratories.

Bernie also addressed the investigation of rare, idiosyncratic toxicity, such as food additives and multiple chemical sensitivity. By their nature, these investigations require less traditional study designs in which the subjects are not randomly assigned to the exposure group (most people would never respond), but the exposures are randomly applied in a blinded fashion to people believed to have the conditions.

Bernie was a master of technical details, but he also kept his eye on the big picture. Just one example: he pioneered the idea that small decreases in the average IQ of a population could lead to big decreases in intellectual stars, and big increases in people with individual cognitive disabilities.

Population level effects have consequences.

As the science of behavioral toxicology and related research methods evolved, Bernie continued to champion the scientific facts demonstrating that low levels of exposure to chemicals could have profound effects on the developing nervous system. He encouraged others to take on this work, pursuing for him what became a lifelong goal: to make the world a safer, more resilient place for all.

Bernie was a generous and enduring collaborator. One notable example is his long-term collaboration with Victor Laties (Ph.D. Psychology University of Rochester, '54). Together they shepherded the discipline of behavioral toxicology from its origins in behavioral pharmacology to its distinguished and impactful status today.

Bernie was also a great mentor, who created a unique atmosphere of stability with flexibility that gave his students, staff and collaborators support and encouraged creativity necessary for good science and to explore new ways to answer research questions. He always made himself available to students and staff to discuss problems and scientific challenges, and to explore new methods to try to answer questions.

Bernie wasn't satisfied to remain quietly within the cloistered halls of academia. He saw the human implications of his work and while always the scientist, he pushed hard to apply that science to protect human and environmental health. Many of Bernie's students went on to have important and impactful careers in academia, government and industry.

The family encourages gifts of remembrance be donated to the University of Rochester Weiss Endowment Fund, supporting the Weiss Toxicology Scholar Award for pre-doctoral and postdoctoral trainees. The Fund has supported 8 scholars since 2014.

Pete Myers, Environmental Health Sciences; Richard W. Stahlhut, University of Missouri at Columbia; Joan Cranmer, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; Steven G. Gilbert, Institute of Neurotoxicology & Neurological Disorders; Shanna H. Swan, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Read More: Remembering a Pioneer of Environmental Health Science

URMC Professor Emeritus and Pioneer of Neurotoxicology Dies at 92

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Weiss

Bernard "Bernie" Weiss, Ph.D.

By Susanne Pallo

Bernard “Bernie” Weiss, ’53 (Ph.D.), professor emeritus of Environmental Medicine and Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, passed away on January 22 at the age of 92 as the result of a fall.

Weiss was a monumental and beloved figure in the scientific community, and helped found a field of research that tracks the impact of toxic chemicals on human behavior. His research sparked national discussions about the dangers of artificial food dyes, pesticides, and chemicals in plastics. He often advocated for better policies to protect the public.

As recently as 2015, Weiss participated in a national debate over the safety of food dyes, which the Food and Drug Administration had declared safe. Citing studies that showed an association between children ingesting food dyes and hyperactivity, Weiss supported a ban. Several large manufacturers, including Kraft, announced they would remove artificial food coloring such as Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 from its macaroni and cheese, replacing the dyes with natural ingredients such as turmeric and paprika.

”We are all gamblers. We scheme to conquer chance, to beguile it into surrender, to lull it into forgiveness. In the end, it subdues us; but without malice, and at times to our advantage. Like other lives, mine has been hostage to random collisions… Neurotoxicology will continue to be an adventure as long as its practitioners remain adventurers.”

Into the final years of his career, Weiss sat on advisory boards that review data and make recommendations about dioxin (an industrial waste product), metals, dental amalgams, the environmental conditions on NASA spacecraft, and air quality aboard commercial airplanes. Up to about two years ago, he could be found in lab several days a week, happy to offer consultation and support to other researchers. A scientific paper he co-authored is in the process of being published.

Deborah Cory-Slechta, Ph.D., professor and former chair of Environmental Medicine at URMC, trained as a postdoc in his lab. “Many of the issues Bernie began to address thirty or forty years ago are still major issues in the field today," she said. "He moved issues forward with creativity and foresight and his legacies will be with the field for a long time to come.”

Another colleague was fellow environmental health pioneer David Ozonoff, M.D., M.P.H., chair emeritus of environmental health at Boston University School of Public Health and co-editor-in-chief of the online journal, Environmental Health. He admired Weiss for his steadfastness, persistence to shared ideals, willingness to put his expertise at the service of the common good, his good humor, and not least, his major contributions to science.

“His legacy will not only be the scientific advances he made but those that will be made by others inspired and mentored by him,” Ozonoff said.

Weiss’ career began and ended at the University of Rochester. He earned a doctoral degree in Psychology at the University in 1953 and returned 12 years later as a faculty member.

In the intervening years, Weiss, a WWII Air Force veteran, conducted research at the Air Force School of Aviation Medicine in Texas, then Johns Hopkins University. He began developing ways to measure the impact of drugs, nutrients and chemicals on the brain, and built one of the first mini-computers ever used in research.

In 1965, Weiss was lured back to URMC as it launched one of the world’s first programs to grant a doctoral degree in toxicology. His research and mentorship helped build the program, which recently established the Bernard Weiss Endowment Fund in honor of his indelible mark on the program. The fund, which was organized by a group of URMC Toxicology Graduate Program alumni and staff, provides support for future leaders in the fields of neurotoxicology and toxicology.

Weiss received several honors. He was named Scientist of the Year by the Association of Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities in 1986. In 2003 he received a Distinguished Investigator Award from the Neurotoxicology Specialty Section of the Society of Toxicology. During the mid-1970s, Weiss took part in the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Environmental Health Exchange Agreement, where he led several U.S. delegations in discussions of behavioral toxicology with their counterparts across the globe.

When asked for an autobiographical statement for the journal Neurotoxicology forty years ago, Weiss wrote:

”We are all gamblers. We scheme to conquer chance, to beguile it into surrender, to lull it into forgiveness. In the end, it subdues us; but without malice, and at times to our advantage. Like other lives, mine has been hostage to random collisions… Neurotoxicology will continue to be an adventure as long as its practitioners remain adventurers.”

Weiss is survived by his children, Wendy (Les) Calkins and Tom (Debora) Weiss; grandchildren, Zachary (Sara), Nicole, William, Emily (Marcelo); brother, Leonard (Sandra); beloved partner, Marti Willit; nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held at a later date.

To honor Weiss, consider making a contribution to the Bernard Weiss Endowment Fund.

Read More: URMC Professor Emeritus and Pioneer of Neurotoxicology Dies at 92

Dr. Thivanka Muthumalage To Present Research At SRNT and SOT

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Dr. Thivanka Muthumalage, a Toxicology Postdoc in the Rahman lab, has been selected for an oral/podium presentation for his abstract, "Cellular Toxicity and Reactive Oxygen Species Prodution by Commonly Used Flavoring Agents in E-Cigarette Liquids", at the 2018 Meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT). The Annual Meeting will be held February 21-24, 2018, at the Hilton Baltimore Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland.

Dr. Muthumalage's abstract, "Immuno-Toxicological Response in Monocytes to E-Cigarette Flavor Chemicals and E-Liquids" has also been selected as a Platform Presentation during the 57th Annual Meeting of the Society of Toxicology (SOT), March 11–15, 2018 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Congratulations Thivanka!

Melanie Prinz's Poster Selected for Presentation at NCUR 2018

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Rahman lab undergrad, Melanie Prinz's poster abstract submission, "Reactive Oxygen Species Production by Commonly Used Flavoring Agents in E-Cigarette Liquids " was selected for presentation at NCUR 2018 at the University of Central Oklahoma. Chosen from more than 4,000 submissions, her abstract demonstrates a unique contribution to her field of study, and NCUR was glad to offer her the opportunity to present this work to her peers, faculty, and staff from all over the nation.

It’s impossible to separate a university and its community. They are connected by vision, by need, by goals. Together, they thrive. The National Conference on Undergraduate Research 2018 embraces this vital relationship in the conference theme, Connection to Place, recognizing the increasing need for direct relevance of an educational experience to the communities that await the college graduate in 2018 and beyond.

Congratulations Melanie!