The vision of the NIEHS is to use environmental health sciences to understand human disease and improve human health. Below are some research highlights from NIEHS scientists since its founding in 1966.
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Federal agencies collaborate in Tox21 to reduce animal testing
Testing the safety of chemicals is becoming more efficient and less reliant on animals thanks to a federal collaboration known as Tox 21. Tox 21 brings together scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NIEHS, the National Toxicology Program (NTP), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and most recently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to test the safety of chemicals using state-of-the-art robotic technology that will reduce the reliance on animal testing.
Global climate change paper identifies 11 key categories for study
An NIEHS-led interagency effort identified 11 key categories of diseases and other health consequences of global climate change. As part of an ad hoc interagency working group on climate change and health, NIEHS teamed up with other government and international researchers to address public health concerns and vulnerability related to climate change. Discussions demonstrated that climate change mitigation strategies, in addition to reducing greenhouse gases, have additional benefits for public health. The group issued its report on Earth Day, April 21, 2010, as a supplement to the NIEHS journal, Environmental Health Perspectives. In 2009, the Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research and Medicine concluded that research on climate change needed to be reframed to emphasize human health impacts and research gaps. As a result, the working group was formed. Researchers following up on the group’s report will develop strategies to promote health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Mitigation strategies include reducing household energy emissions, reducing motor vehicle use, developing and using low-carbon electricity, and reducing meat consumption.
NIEHS Sister Study on breast cancer, environment and genes fully enrolled and in follow-up phase
The NIEHS Sister Study is a prospective cohort study of how the environment and genes together affect the chance that a woman will get breast cancer and other diseases. The study includes 50,884 women ages 35-74 recruited from every state and Puerto Rico who have never had breast cancer themselves, but who have a sister diagnosed with the disease. The study, which is the largest of its kind, has already reported some preliminary findings about how factors such as weight and perceived stress may influence health and how early-life exposures may influence development of uterine fibroids and age at menopause. The study started in 2004, enrollment was completed in 2009, and women will be followed prospectively for 10 or more years. The study has led to spin-off projects such as the Two Sister Study, a family-based study of genes and environment funded by a grant from Komen for the Cure.
Liver enzyme decreases drug metabolism
Genetic tests are available for the two principal alleles of CYP2C9. Researchers found a null allele of CYP2C9 that decreases metabolism of both warfarin and phenytoin and a second deleterious allele reported in African-Americans on warfarin. Collaborative clinical studies have shown that metabolism of tolbutamide, phenytoin, and warfarin are altered in people with genetic polymorphisms of CYP2C9, affecting dosage requirements and sometimes causing dangerous or fatal bleeding episodes in patients on warfarin as an anticoagulant.
RNA polymerase stalling potentiates gene activity by maintaining open chromatin structure
NIEHS researchers in the Transcriptional Responses to the Environment Group announced new findings in their study of the stalling of RNA polymerase II as it begins to transcribe a gene. The most recent findings complement earlier research demonstrating that the stalling (or pausing) of RNA polymerase is widespread throughout the genome. Researchers found that stalling could enhance gene expression by preventing epigenetic changes like the formation of repressive chromatin structures, and that stalling is important for regulation of mammalian immune response, including the critical inflammatory mediator TNF-alpha. The group developed tools to perform high-resolution mapping of stalled RNA polymerase complexes across the genome, using next-generation sequencing technologies. In addition to confirming the widespread regulation of genes by polymerase stalling, these studies reveal that DNA sequences in the promoter region influence pausing and RNA polymerase dynamics.