Society of Toxicology

EPA Researchers Win Best Toxicological Paper Awards

EPA scientists Yong Ho Kim, Christina Powers, and Russell S. Thomas

EPA scientists Yong Ho Kim, Christina Powers, and Russell S. Thomas were recognized by the Society for Toxicology.

By Dina Abdulhadi

EPA researchers will be honored March 22, 2015 at the Society of Toxicology’s 54th annual meeting and ToxExpo in San Diego, CA for their work to advance understanding of the effects of chemicals on human and environmental health. Having worked in a toxicology lab at EPA for the past year, I can appreciate the significant amount of hours and effort that go into producing publishable scientific work.

The first authors on the papers receiving the honors are Russell S. Thomas, Director of EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology, Yong Ho Kim and Christina Powers.

Thomas and his co-authors won the Best Paper in Toxicological Sciences Award. Their work used risk assessment models to understand how chemicals affect the way our genetic information translates into molecules and results in cancer and non-cancer effects. This type of so-called “omics” data (such as transcriptomics data) can be used to help make decisions on regulating chemicals. The paper, “Temporal Concordance between Apical and Transcriptional Points of Departure for Chemical Risk Assessment” was published in Toxicological Sciences, the official journal of the Society of Toxicology.

Kim and Powers each received a Best Postdoctoral Publication Award, provided to early-career scientists for their contributions in toxicology.

Kim’s paper addressed how the size of particulate matter, an air pollutant from peat fires, may affect the type of health impact. Larger particles were linked to respiratory effects, while smaller particles were linked to cardiovascular effects. The paper, “Cardiopulmonary Toxicity of Peat Wildfire Particulate Matter and the Predictive Utility of Precision Cut Lung Slices,” was published in Particle and Fibre Toxicology.

The study also found a way to decrease the animals needed for an experiment. That’s a big plus for both the effort to reduce the use of animals in research and cost. Cultured lung tissue slices (ex vivo) of an animal produced similar lung toxicity data when compared to a whole animal (in vivo).

Powers received an award for a paper that connects research planning to risk assessments of certain chemicals in the environment. The research focused on multi-walled carbon nanotubes, which are used in a variety of consumer products as flame retardants. The paper, “Sparking Connections: Toward Better Linkages between Research and Human Health Policy — An Example with Multiwalled Carbon Nanotubes” is published in Toxicological Sciences.

The Society of Toxicology (SOT) will formally award the researchers at an awards ceremony. SOT is an organization of over 7,600 scientists whose goal is to create a safer and healthier world by advancing the science of toxicology.

If you are attending this year’s Society of Toxicology annual meeting, I encourage you to find out more about EPA’s advances in toxicology research. EPA’s research will be featured during SOT sessions, symposia, workshops, platform presentations, poster sessions and at EPA’s booth in the exhibit hall. To find out when EPA’s research will be featured at SOT, you can visit EPA’s SOT web page at: http://epa.gov/research/sot/. For more information on the awards and the Society of Toxicology, check out the press release.

About the Author: Dina Abdulhadi is a student contractor currently working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Exciting Times for Toxicology: Creating New Predictive Models

By Dr. James H. Johnson, Jr.

image of a computer chip with wires coming offNext week, a number of my EPA colleagues will join toxicologists from across the world in San Diego, CA for the Society of Toxicology’s 54th Annual Meeting and “ToxExpo.” The gathering will feature more than 160 scientific sessions and 2,400 poster presentations, providing important insights into how the study of chemical toxicity can better protect public health and the environment.

Although this particular conference has been going on for more than half a century, these are exciting times for toxicologists. And I’m proud to say that EPA is helping lead the way.

Our researchers and their partners are ushering in a new generation of chemical testing and screening methods, developing “virtual embryos” and other complex models that use scientific data, computer power, and sophisticated calculations to mimic the potential effects of toxins on actual tissues and organs. With other federal partners, they are using robots to advance fast and efficient high-throughput-screening assays, greatly accelerating the pace of chemical screening while dramatically reducing the use of laboratory animals—and costs.

We are also supporting innovative, world-class research through our Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant program. New STAR grants will be announced at the Society of Toxicology’s Annual Meeting (March 25 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.) when we will hold a kickoff meeting of our newly established Organotypic Cell Models for Predictive Toxicology Centers. This research is part of EPA’s Chemical Safety for Sustainability research program.

The research Centers are being established to develop three-dimensional models, sometimes called “organs-on-a-chip,” which can be used to replicate human biological interactions within tissues and organs. When developed and evaluated, these models known as Organotypic Culture Models (hence the name of the Centers) will help investigate the toxic effects of chemical substances. Such models are established from isolated cells or from tissue fragments, bridging the gap between conventional, single-layered cell cultures and whole-animal systems.

What the Centers learn will be used to develop computational models that can help predict responses and outcomes from chemical exposures, such as human disease and long-term effects on tissue and organ growth. The models they develop will also mimic biological functions such as a metabolic process.

If you are attending the Society of Toxicology’s 54th Annual Meeting and “ToxExpo” this year, you are welcome to come to the March 25th grantee kick-off meeting.

The impact of all this activity is a new wave of toxicology testing that is faster, more efficient, and far less costly. This will help us at EPA with our number one priority: protecting human health and the environment. That’s some pretty exciting news.

About the Author: Dr. James H. Johnson Jr. is the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, which runs the Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program as well as other grant, fellowship, and awards programs that support high quality research by many of our nation’s leading scientists and engineers.

Please note: We’ll be sharing more about EPA participation at the annual Society of Toxicology Meeting throughout next week, so please check back to learn more.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Education Outreach: Fun for All!

By Maureen Gwinn, Ph.D., DABT

Since 2007, the Girl Scouts Council Nation’s Capital Chapter has organized a Girl Scout Science Day to give local Girl Scouts an opportunity to learn more about science in a fun and friendly environment. 

I first became involved as a friend of the troop leader in charge of the event.  She and I would work on ideas, adapt experimental protocols and talk our science friends into volunteering at the event. 

EPA's Maureen Gwinn: "I enjoy every opportunity I have to encourage kids to have fun with science."

From the beginning, experiments have been led by Cadette or Senior Girl Scouts with the assistance of volunteers, including troop ‘moms’ and ‘dads’ and area scientists. We have hands-on experiments that address concepts of chemistry, microbiology, genetics, and toxicology.  We have had discussions related to what goes into your personal hygiene products, why DNA is unique to each of us, and how forensic science can help to solve a crime.

The Cadette and Senior Girl Scouts running the experiments at a recent event were the 4th graders who participated five years ago.  It has been a pleasure to see these girls not only learn the scientific concepts well enough to teach them to the new Brownie and Junior Girl Scouts, but to watch them take on more responsibility for the event itself.  Through my involvement in this event, I have been privileged to watch those young, giggly ten-year-old girls turn into responsible young ladies – that still giggle, but do so while teaching or setting up for the next group of girls. 

This event inspired me to volunteer in education outreach at other events, including the Society of Toxicology Annual meeting, EPA’s Earth Day celebrations, and the USA Science & Engineering Festival

Volunteering in education outreach was not something I had considered in the past, but after participating in the Girl Scout Science Day for the past five years, I enjoy every opportunity I have to encourage kids to have fun with science, to ask questions about how things work, and to work together to solve scientific problems. 

The Society of Toxicology Education Committee has ways to help support these types of opportunities, and for K-12 in particular we are putting together a website of ideas, experiments, and how-to’s to get you started in the new year. 

Are you interested in getting involved in education outreach, but don’t know where to start? Or are you already involved and have some tips or favorite resources to share? Please post your questions or suggestions in the comments section below so we can join forces.

The impact these events have on the kids is worth the effort. 

About the Author:  Maureen Gwinn is a biologist in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment and works as an Associate National Program Director for Sustainable and Healthy Communities.  She is currently serving in her final year as the K-12 Subcommittee Chair for the Society of Toxicology and is always looking for ideas for scientific outreach.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Science Wednesday:Foresight for a Better Future: Green Chemistry

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Sarah Blau

“We don’t want to make things just a little less bad, we want to move towards a systems perspective….so tomorrow is not as unsustainable as today.”

These are the words of Dr. Paul Anastas, EPA’s assistant administrator for science. I heard Dr. Anastas speak recently at the Society of Toxicology conference in Washington, DC. These words stuck with me.

Dr. Anastas was kicking off a well-attended workshop on Green Chemistry with his presentation on “Molecular Design for Reduced Hazard.” His statement which stuck with me (quoted above) is relevant to much more than just Green Chemistry though. I heard him as basically saying: let’s have some foresight with what we’re doing here, people.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite lines from a movie: “Hindsight – it’s like foresight without a future.” “So true” I remember thinking during the movie, and this is what I thought of Dr. Anastas’ presentation as well.

He explained that a major aspect of Green Chemistry lies in the design of chemicals. Chemicals are all around us, and some of them are harmful—either to us, to the environment, or to both. Dr. Anastas believes in using a “systems perspective” with chemical research. This means looking at the whole picture, from where the chemical comes from, the processes used in its creation, its role for us or for the environment, and its potential effects on us and our environment. Basically, taking a systems perspective means utilizing great foresight to understand and predict the consequences of new chemicals in the early design stage of research.

“Design considerations are a part of green chemistry,” Anastas gave an example, “you are not just making a red dye, but a red dye that does not also cause cancer.”

What a great idea—to detect potential harmful effects as early in the designing stages of new chemicals, new materials, and new products as possible. Hindsight only offers us the opportunity to try to fix a problem. Foresight allows us the opportunity to keep problems from developing. Dr. Anastas delivered an important message about the concept of Green Chemistry, but also an important message about all aspects of research (and life too): let’s have some foresight with what we’re doing here, people.

About the author:  Sarah Blau is a student services contractor working with EPA’s science communication team.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

What’s in the Air?

By Sarah Blau

Today when I step outside after a long day of work, I will draw in a nice deep breath of fresh air….hmmm, I wonder what I am actually inhaling?

Oh, there’s definitely some oxygen in there, and probably some nitrogen and carbon dioxide too – I hear these things are common in air. But what with the cars zooming out of the parking lot, the groundskeepers spraying the shrubs, and the commuter bus making its daily rounds, I’m guessing there are chemicals going into my body that I’ve never even heard of.

The point is, pollution doesn’t affect people one chemical at a time. There is a whole plethora of chemicals floating around out there (most common air pollutants) and we want to know what they are going to do in our bodies!

This is why in early March I was excited to attend the Society of Toxicology’s Annual Meeting where EPA announced the creation of four new Clean Air Research Centers (CLARCs). One of the main goals of the centers is to research air pollution mixtures and how those mixtures affect our bodies.

Each of the four university-based CLARCs will receive $8 million over a 5-year grant period. The research centers are located at: Harvard University, Michigan State University, University of Washington, and a combined effort from Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Each CLARC will have its own research focus, but the overarching theme of their research projects will be to better understand the health risks associated with air pollution and mixtures. More specific projects include studying the connections between air pollution and obesity, investigating how roadway pollution affects heart and lung health, researching how pollution mixtures and their associated health affects vary by location, and looking at how air pollution affects the human body during different life stages.

The four CLARCs will conduct cutting-edge research to answer a myriad of questions we have about air pollution. Questions such as: Are children born prematurely sensitive to air pollution, Can your morning commute make you sick, Does air pollution affect your child’s learning, or Does obesity make you susceptible to health effects of air pollution?

After hearing the EPA announcement about these centers and all the research projects they intend to conduct, I am looking forward to the day when I will actually know what I am breathing in – and what it is doing to my body – when I step outside after a long day of work and take a nice deep breath of fresh air.

About the author: Writer Sarah Blau is a student services contractor working with EPA’s science communication team.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: A Hedgehog was my ‘Sputnik Moment’

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Aaron Ferster

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the annual science fair at my daughter’s elementary school. I joined several hundred other proud parents in the loud, over-crowded gymnasium to bask in the collective genius of our children.

As I’ve come to expect, the projects were impressive. There were investigations exploring which substance—sand , salt, or flour—melted ice the fastest (it was salt); what kind of pet rodent could learn to negotiate a maze the fastest (a rat), and which paper towel absorbed the most water.

I finished checking the other presentations just in time to watch the judge interview my daughter about her own project: the self-anointing behavior of her pet hedgehog. For largely unknown reasons, hedgehogs sometimes contort backwards so they can reach the quills on their back and cover them with a coating of frothy saliva. Once you get past the yuck factor, it’s really quite fascinating.

My daughter put her hedgie in front of newspaper, a toy hedgehog, and a magazine to compare anointing responses. It anointed the most when confronted with newspaper, which it would bite and energetically chew up. There was no response at all at  the toy.

At the exact same time the elementary school students were showing off their experiments, some of my colleagues were preparing to share EPA research activities at a gathering of slightly older, more experienced scientists: the annual meeting of The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS meeting is just one of several gatherings where EPA scientists and science communicators go to share their work every year. For scientists, such events serve as important venues to share their latest findings, meet colleagues, and cultivate new research partnerships in support of EPA programs protecting human health and the environment.

Next month EPA scientists and their work will be prominently featured at the 5oth Anniversary celebration of the Society of  Toxicology. In April, EPA’s own Earth Day activities will include bringing college and university student teams together at the 8th Annual P3 Awards : A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet.

Whether it’s the scientific presentations presented by elementary school students or the world class scientists gathering at AAAS, there seems to be lots of enthusiasm for sharing science. I always look forward to the next event. And who knows, someday soon maybe I’ll learn more about why hedgehogs self anoint.

About the Author: Science-writer Aaron Ferster is the editor for Science Wednesdays and a frequent contributor.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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