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Steve N. Georas Named to New Parkes Professorship

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Physician-scientist Steve N. Georas, M.D., professor of Medicine, Environmental Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, was installed as the inaugural Parkes Family Professor June 5.

Walter and the late Carmina Parkes, and their children Susan, Tom and Linda, were driven to open the first asthma center in the region. They have been a steady force in the growth of the UR Medicine’s Mary M. Parkes Center for Asthma, Allergy and Pulmonary Care, working closely with center leaders, educators and scientists. The center is located on Red Creek Drive in Henrietta and serves as the leader for the diagnosis, treatment and research of acute asthma, allergies and other pulmonary diseases.

“It was our family’s dream to honor the memory of our daughter with the center. Now, establishing a professorship allows us to make it everlasting,” said Walter Parkes, chairman of O’Connell Electric Co. The family has committed $1.5 million to the University.

Mary Parkes was diagnosed with acute asthma as a young girl and went on to study nursing. She was an intensive care unit nurse before the lung disease progressed. She was hospitalized more than 50 times in the decades before her death in 1991. The center was established in 1995.

“We are so happy to be working with UR Medicine because it is always moving forward and we are proud to be a part of that energy,” said Susan Parkes McNally, executive vice president and treasurer of O’Connell Electric and member of the University of Rochester Medical Center Board as well as its Advancement, Facilities and Quality of Care subcommittees. “We look forward to what we can continue to do and achieve in providing care for people with chronic pulmonary issues.”

McNally is a steadfast supporter and has collaborated with the Junior Builders Exchange to organize an annual golf tournament for the past 21 years to support the Parkes Center. This year’s tournament will be held Sept. 7.

“URMC’s partnership with the Parkes family is essential to the success of clinical, research and education programs designed to improve asthma care,” said Mark Taubman, M.D., CEO of URMC and UR Medicine and dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry. “Their support will serve as a lasting tribute and will further enable the innovative work being done in pulmonary diseases.”

“The establishment of this professorship by the Parkes family will be critical to advancing the Pulmonary Division’s clinical, educational and scientific efforts,” said Paul Levy, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Medicine and the Charles Ayrault Dewey Professor of Medicine. “The mantra that long-term relationships define so many aspects of our lives could not be more true than when I think of working closely with the Parkes family for nearly three decades. The early years of planning the Parkes Center, followed by renovations and the expansion of patient services were critical to the success of the center. Now the family has ‘raised the bar’ even higher with the establishment of an endowed professorship.”

Georas is a busy clinician-scientist who balances the patient care with leadership of a National Institutes of Health-funded laboratory at URMC.

He is part of the collaborative teams caring for patients in the Medical Intensive Care Units at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial and Highland hospitals, as well at Mary M. Parkes Center for Asthma, Allergy and Pulmonary Care.

“Steve Georas’ clinical and scientific contributions are integral to the advancement of our programs and benefit our patients on a daily basis,” said Patricia Sime, M.D., Chief of Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care and the C. Jane Davis and C. Robert Davis Distinguished Professor in Pulmonary Medicine. “Dr. Georas is an internationally recognized physician-scientist who has focused his career on advancing our understanding of the fundamental causes of asthma and translating his research to improve the care of patients with asthma.”

Georas is studying how the lung’s immune system responds to inhaled particles, allergens and viruses, and how this process breaks down in asthma leading to potentially dangerous immune responses that can cause allergic airway inflammation and difficulty breathing. He is also working to develop techniques to identify people who are at greater risk of developing life-threatening asthma and need intensive therapies.

“The support we’ve received from the Parkes family for our asthma research is invaluable and has allowed us to make steady progress toward new pathways for asthma treatment,” Georas said. He is an internationally recognized thought leader in asthma research, and has served on advisory committees to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health and numerous professional societies. Later this year he will chair the NIH panel review for the PrecISE Asthma Network, which will establish the next generation of asthma centers developing personalized treatments for severe asthmatics.

A graduate of Brown University and its medical school, he completed an Internal Medicine internship and residency at Duke University Medical Center. After a fellowship in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, he joined its faculty and conducted research into asthma and allergies. In 2006, Georas joined URMC and served as chief of the Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine until 2010. Georas has been honored for his teaching and mentorship of students, post-doctoral fellows and junior faculty.

He has published more than 85 research articles and chapters on asthma immunology and the care of patients with pulmonary diseases.

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Talk on Environmental Hazards at Home

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Cait Fallone of the University’s Environmental Health Sciences Center and Jennifer Becker of the Finger Lakes Children’s Environmental Health Center will present “Could Your Home Be Making You Sick? Learn How to Stay Safe” from 12:10 to 12:50 p.m. Thursday, June 15, at the Rochester Central Library’s Bausch and Lomb Building, 115 South Ave. The lecture is part of a community health education series “Got Health?” co-sponsored by the Center for Community Health and the Central Library. Parking is available in the Court Street garage.

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Grant Helps Build Understanding of Environmental Health with Hands-on Science Kits

Monday, June 12, 2017

A University of Rochester start-up company, Science Take-Out, LLC, has been awarded a nearly $1 million, two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to further develop a line of hands-on environmental health science kits for use in community settings. The kits will help teachers and community educators increase the public’s understanding of how the environment can affect their health.

The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) at the NIH will support modification of Science Take-Out’s current line of environmental health education kits for broader use.

Since 2008, Science Take-Out kits have provided a convenient and cost-effective way for teachers to incorporate engaging environmental health science activities into their classrooms. Now the kits, which align with national and state science education standards, will undergo a second round of extensive field testing to ensure they are relevant and accessible to diverse community audiences.

“Educating students and the general public about the link between the environment and their health allows them to make informed decisions and change their behavior to protect themselves from environmental exposures,” said Dina Markowitz, Ph.D., professor of Environmental Medicine, director of UR’s Life Sciences Learning Center.  

Markowitz and Katrina Korfmacher, Ph.D., associate professor of Environmental Medicine and director of the Community Outreach and Engagement Core (COEC) at URMC’s Environmental Health Science Center, partnered to develop and test eight current environmental health kits, which range from lessons on breast cancer to lead poisoning prevention.

With the new award Markowitz and Korfmacher will collaborate with environmental health community outreach professionals from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill COEC, the University of Texas Medical Branch COEC, and West Harlem Environmental Action to adapt the kits for use outside of the classroom.

"Read More: Grant Helps Build Understanding of Environmental Health with Hands-on Science Kits

Slaughter Announces $524,000 Grant for Science Take-Out to Continue Environmental Health Education Initiative

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-25) today announced a $524,883 federal award for Science Take-Out, a locally-based company that manufactures easy-to-use, hands-on science kits for students. This funding, administered by the Department of Human Health and Services’ (HHS) Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, will expand on Science Take-Out’s successful STTR Phase I project that developed environmental health education kits for students in partnership with the University of Rochester’s Environmental Health Sciences Center.

“I’m so pleased to announce this federal funding for Science Take-Out to continue their important work educating kids and community members about science. At a time when science and fact are under siege, it is critical that organizations like this promote the building blocks of environmental education for our students. I’ve often said that Rochester is home to some of the brightest minds in the country and this is largely because of businesses like Science Take-Out, who help to inspire the next generation of researchers and environmental advocates with engaging, hands-on activities,” said Rep. Slaughter.

Currently, environmental health is typically covered minimally, if at all, in secondary school classrooms and there are also very few available hands-on activities that engage the general public in learning about concepts related to environmental health. Science Take-Out develops and manufactures innovative and easy-to-use hands-on science activity kits that are used in schools throughout the country. This new award will support Science Take-Out’s efforts to gather evidence on the impact of environmental health science kits on students’ learning and to modify the kits for use in diverse, community-based settings.

“Science Take-Out believes in the power of hands-on, experiential learning. That’s what our science kits do: provide students with the fun, easy-to-use tools they need to broaden their knowledge about science and health. We are a team of experienced science educators always looking for more ways to engage young students and this grant will go a long way in supporting that mission. Thank you, Congresswoman Slaughter, for your support of federal investments in research and science education,” said Dina Markowitz, president of Science Take-Out and professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester.

This funding expands Science Take-Out’s successful STTR Phase I project that developed and pilot-tested eight hands-on Science Take-Out kits on topics in environmental health science in partnership with the University of Rochester’s Environmental Health Sciences Center. These kits aid students in learning important health concepts such as: the biological effects of lead, sun and pesticide poisoning and health issues associated with antimicrobial agents found in consumer products.

Children with elevated lead levels aren't being tested or diagnosed, study says

Thursday, April 27, 2017

In the United States, pediatric health care providers are not doing enough testing of children's blood lead levels in many states, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Pediatrics.

When 38 states and the District of Columbia reported cases of elevated blood lead levels to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1999 to 2010, most reported fewer than half of the numbers that were expected, the new study says. (An elevated blood lead level is considered to be greater than or equal to 10 micrograms per deciliter.)

Katrina Smith Korfmacher, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, agreed that the historical focus of public health discussions of lead poisoning has been on the Northeast "due to the high concentrations of older housing in poor condition."

"Although this study may focus attention on the potentially unidentified children at risk in other areas, the need to reduce lead hazards in areas with large amounts of older housing remains critical," said Korfmacher, who was not involved in the new research.

Read More: Children with elevated lead levels aren't being tested or diagnosed, study says

Rahman Receives Senior Toxicologist Award From The Society of Toxicology

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Rahman plaque

Irfan Rahman, Ph.D., Professor of Environmental Medicine, has been awarded a Senior Toxicologist Award by the Society of Toxicology - Associations of Scientists of Indian Origin. The award was presented to Dr. Rahman in the presence of many Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting attendees as well as several NIEHS officials.

He received the award at the SOT 56th Annual Meeting and ToxExpo in Baltimore, MD on March 13th. This year’s meeting, like its predecessors, was designed to provide members with access to cutting-edge science, networking opportunities, and career development resources through its various events and activities:

  • 160+ Scientific Sessions, covering diverse topics such as age- dependent neuroimmunotoxicological effects, cardiopulmonary consequences of gestational toxicant exposure, and novel in vitro and in silico platforms, among dozens of others
  • 50+ receptions and social events hosted by SOT Regional Chapters, Special Interest Groups, Specialty Sections, Committees, and other toxicology-related organizations
  • 13 Continuing Education courses and other education opportunities
  • ToxExpo, featuring more than 330 exhibitors providing products, services, and technology created to benefit the toxicology community

Congratulations Dr. Rahman!

Rahman award

Rahman

Irfan Rahman Studies Respiratory Risk of E-Cigarette Flavorings

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The label may say “cinnamon” or “vanilla” but the true contents of e-cigarette flavorings are acetoin, diacetyl, and other chemical additives that are known to irritate the respiratory tract and impair lung function, according to a collaborative study from western New York scientists.

Senior author Irfan Rahman, Ph.D., professor of Environmental Medicine and part of the Lung Biology and Disease Program, said the findings suggest that chemical flavorings in e-cigarettes not only cause inflammation but may rapidly impair the critical epithelial cells in the airways, which act as the first defense against infections and toxins. When the epithelial barrier becomes more permeable or leaky due to chemical assaults, life-threatening lung diseases can occur.

For example, volatile flavoring chemicals (such as the butter flavor in microwave popcorn) have been linked to severe lung diseases among workers at food manufacturing plants who were routinely exposed during production, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The local study was published by the journal, Applied In Vitro Toxicology. Janice Gerloff, a technician in Rahman’s laboratory, and Isaac Sundar, Ph.D., a research assistant professor at URMC, worked with chemists and engineers at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University at Buffalo to study the chemical characteristics of a sampling of flavored liquids used in vape pens, e-hookahs, e-cigars, e-pipes obtained from local vape shops. More than 450 brands of e-cig products with more than 8,000 flavors (including chocolate, menthol, mango, and cotton candy) are on the market, the study said.

Although the Flavor Extracts Manufacturers Association has certified these chemicals as safe, scientists are concerned about consumers inhaling them in high concentrations. Many e-cig flavors also are laced with nicotine. Researchers tested the emissions of flavored liquids and created a “puff profile” and a chemical profile for each flavor. They also treated human lung cells with the vaping chemicals and observed a potent reaction as pro-inflammatory cells transformed lung epithelial cells, making them more vulnerable to injury and illness.

The U.S Food and Drug Administration, Center for Tobacco Products, funded the research.

Distinguished Neurotoxicologist Award 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

Photo of Dr. Deborah Cory-SlechtaThe Society of Toxicology (SOT) Neurotoxicology Specialty Section (NTSS) Awards Committee has selected Dr. Deborah Cory-Slechta as the recipient of the Distinguished Neurotoxicologist Award. This award will be presented at the NTSS Reception that will be held on Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at the Hilton Baltimore Key Ballroom 6.

Dr. Cory-Slechta has demonstrated a life-long commitment to neurotoxicology. She has been a pioneer in championing neurotoxicology and behavioral science, and in exploring the interactions of chemical and non-chemical stressors to understand the complex etiology of behavioral diseases. This research is highlighted, for example, in experimental work confirming that low-level lead exposure alters neurodevelopment, which was highly influential in setting federal guidelines for developmental lead exposures. Her more recent research including that on the interactions between air pollution exposure and socioeconomic stress on neurodevelopment also promises to be highly influential. In addition, Dr. Cory-Slechta has served extensively in a variety of administrative roles including as Department Chair, Institute Director, and Dean for Research at two prominent academic programs on occupational and environmental health. She also has served on numerous federal advisory panels and as an Officer and President of the NTSS. This overall record of research accomplishments and service marks a singularly distinguished career in neurotoxicology that is recognized by this award.

The committee considered three superb nominations for the Distinguished Neurotoxicologist Award. The review panel (Drs. William Boyes (chair), Michelle Block, Aaron Bowman, Steven Lasley, and Marion Ehrich) carefully evaluated these nominations relative to contributions to the science of neurotoxicology, the use of neurotoxicological science in making risk assessment and regulatory decisions, and service to the NTSS and the field of neurotoxicology. All three nominees were outstanding, exceptionally accomplished, and each has made strong contributions to neurotoxicology. Unfortunately, in any one year we are able to select only one individual for the Distinguished Neurotoxicologist Award.

The Neurotoxicology Specialty Section (NTSS) has a rich history of outstanding scientists advancing our field through research, regulatory, and service accomplishments. In the past, NTSS has recognized four scientists as Distinguished Investigators in the field of Neurotoxicology from 2001 through 2006 and Dr. Joan Cranmer in 2008 for Distinguished Service to Neurotoxicology. However, despite many accomplished scientists contributing greatly and in a variety of ways to the field, this award has been dormant since 2008. In an effort to establish a continuous mechanism to acknowledge the top leaders in our field, the NTSS leadership reinstated a career recognition award, now called the Distinguished Neurotoxicologist Award. This year, we established clear criteria, defined procedures, encouraged nominations, and convened a committee to evaluate applications. For those interested, the details of this process can be found on the NTSS website.

Congratulations to Dr. Cory-Slechta

Evidence Points to Fish Oil to Fight Asthma

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Birbeck

University of Rochester Medical Center scientists have discovered new essential information about omega 3 fatty acids contained in fish oil and how they could be used for asthma patients.

In a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation—Insight, researchers using cell cultures from local asthma patients, found that:

  • Omega-3 fatty acid products can reduce the production of IgE, the antibodies that cause allergic reactions and asthma symptoms in people with milder cases of asthma
  • But in patients with severe asthma who use high doses of oral steroids, the omega-3 fatty acids are less effective because the corticosteroids block the beneficial effects

Lead author Richard P. Phipps, Ph.D., the Wright Family Research Professor of Environmental Medicine, and his lab had previously shown that certain fatty acids contained in fish oil regulate the function of immune cells (B cells). They wanted to further investigate the effects on asthma.

People with asthma have an imbalance between molecules that dampen inflammation and those that increase inflammation. Using steroids as treatment controls the inflammation and relieves symptoms, but does not cure the underlying disease.

Read More: Evidence Points to Fish Oil to Fight Asthma

Rahman's Recent Paper Featured on Cover of American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology

Thursday, January 19, 2017

journal cover

Enviromental Medicine professor, Irfan Rahman's paper, Shelterin Telomere Protection Protein 1 Reduction Causes Telomere Attrition and Cellular Senescence via Sirtuin 1 Deacetylase in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease , has been chosen to be featured on the January cover of the journal of American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology. The cover (see image to the right) includes a diagram is from the Rahman group's data figure showing human telomere damage by environmental tobacco smoke during lung aging and COPD disease.

Congratulations to Dr. Rahman and his lab!