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Your Environment. Your Health.

Progress Reports: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: Research Translation Core

Superfund Research Program

Research Translation Core

Project Leader: Kathleen Gray
Grant Number: P42ES005948
Funding Period: 2006-2018
View this project in the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT)

Learn More About the Grantee

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Progress Reports

Year:   2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2009  2008  2007  2006 

Studies and Results

Specific Aim 1: The Research Translation Core (RTC) is included as a standing agenda item in monthly PI meetings, and RTC staff met with each PI individually to facilitatie new RT activity. The RTC also published three issues of their online newsletter, the Superfund Scoop, averaging 800 unique views per issue in 20 states and 16 countries. In April 2013, they launched a Twitter account to engage the national SRP network and other partners around relevant research. In addition, jointly with the Duke University SRP RTC, they are surveying NIEHS-funded centers with research translation activity to understand how these centers use social media to communicate science.

Specific Aim 2: Investigators participated in the following research translation efforts. In the Genomic and Genetic Analysis of Liver and Kidney Toxicity of Trichloroethylene project, Dr. Rusyn's committee service included: the NCDENR Division of Air Quality's Science Advisory Board, which is finalizing the state's risk assessment for cadmium and arsenic, The National Academies' National Research Council's (NRC) committee Design and Evaluation of Safer Chemical Substitutions--A Framework to Inform Government and Industry Decisions and the NRC committee to assess cancer hazard classification of formaldehyde and styrene. Dr. Rusyn was also invited to serve on the NIEHS Environmental Health Sciences Review Committee and was among the scientists featured at the meeting, Moving Forward in Human Cancer Risk Assessment in the Genomics Era 2.0, co-sponsored by NIEHS. In Elucidating Mechanisms of Heavy Metal-Induced Toxicity and Disease, Dr. Fry was appointed to The National Academies' NRC Committee on Inorganic Arsenic. In the Measuring Chronic Exposure To And Bioavailability Of Organic Chemicals And Their Metabolites With A Novel Universal Passive Sampling Deviceproject, Dr. Shea's lab contracted with NC Wildlife Resources Commission to measure PCBs in water, sediment and fish in the Yadkin River, near with Alcoa/Badin Lake site. He is also working with NCDHHS to develop guidance on measuring PCBs. In the Beyond Parent Compound Disappearance in the Bioremediation of PAH-Contaminated Soil project, Dr. Aitken and RTC staff began discussions with RPMs at two North Carolina NPL sites contaminated with PAHs--Holcomb Creosote Co. (USEPA contact: Joe Alfano) and Kerr McGee (USEPA contact: Erik Spalvins)--to determine whether either is suitable for field-testing of bioremediation techniques being developed in Aitken's lab.

At two other NPL sites, RTC staff began to scope new activity. At Ward Transformer (USEPA contacts: Hilary Thornton, Nestor Young), RTC has been asked to assist with new community involvement efforts. Jointly with the Duke SRP RTC and the Montana-based Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources (IJNR), the RTC is also developing a "learning expedition" for reporters on varied environmental issues, including Superfund. The Ward site will be featured in the expedition, to be held in March 2014, and USEPA and local agency staff will participate. The RTC also has been contacted by community members who were recently awarded a TAG grant near the CTS-Mills Gap Road NPL site, and they are exploring ways to provide technical assistance to this group. Prior work that focused on interviewing anglers around Badin Lake about fish consumption advisories, conducted with the Division of Public Health in NCDHHS, was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. (DPH contacts: Mina Shehee and Mercedes Hernandez-Pelletier.) In addition, Dr. Alison Sanders, a former UNC SRP trainee in Dr. Fry's laboratory, participated in USEPA's Risk e-Learning webinar in November.

Specific Aim 3: Dr. Serre and his team continued to develop decision support tools that address uncertainty in space/time risk assessments for Superfund contaminants using Bayesian Maximum Entropy methods of modern spatiotemporal geostatistics. They continued to support version 2 of the BMEGUI software used to map Superfund contaminants in the subsurface based on a Euclidean metric and added new features to BMEGUI version 3, which maps Superfund contaminants along rivers. They also demonstrated the use of the BMEGUI tool to estimate PAH and atrazine concentrations along two river systems. The team started the development of a flow weighted covariance model that further improves the estimation of contaminants along impacted rivers using the BMElib numerical package. Finally, they applied BMElib to begin developing a space/time risk assessment for TCE and renal cancer across the state. (NCDENR contact: Evan Kane)

In June 2013, Drs. Rusyn and Wright presented a workshop in Ottawa, Canada to introduce members of Health Canada, Canada's federal health department, to the computational toxicology tools they have developed for Next Generation environmental risk assessment. Dr. Ivan Rusyn and colleagues from Sage Bionetworks/DREAM, NIEHS, and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), also launched an innovative project called the NIEHS-NCATS-UNC DREAM Toxicogenetics Challenge, which uses crowdsourcing to better understand how genetics influence toxicity for a large number of widely-used chemicals.

Specific Aim 4: In April 2013, the RTC opened a 900-square-foot exhibit exploring the history and science of coal tar remediation at manufactured gas plants in North Carolina, in partnership with the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center (MPSC). The exhibit featured the work of Drs. Aitken and Cass Miller (former SRP investigator). UNC SRP investigators and experts from NCDENR and industry consulted in the exhibit development, which is open through February 2014. To date, over 7,000 people have visited. In an evaluation of the exhibit conducted by MPSC, 100% of participants learned about PAHs, coal tar, bioremediation and contaminated sites in NC. Just prior to the opening, over 1,000 people participated in related activities as part of the 2013 UNC Science Expo. The RTC staff and trainees led hands-on activities that enabled participants to explore the process of locating and cleaning up contaminated soil and water at Superfund sites. RTC staff also assisted SRP trainees in presenting these activities as an afterschool module to 20 minority elementary students as part of a student-led STEM initiative. In other outreach, Dr. Fry will share her research at a Carolina Science Café in February 2014.

In the past year, the RTC also engaged over 200 middle and high school science teachers in professional development. In spring 2013, the RTC published lessons highlighting Dr. Fry's epigenetic research on LEARN NC (http://www.learnnc.org/, a digital clearinghouse for K-12 lessons. These lessons were featured in two teacher professional development sessions titled Epigenetics: Integrating this Emerging Field into your Biology Curriculum for national audiences in November 2013. Over 100 teachers attended these sessions at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Conference in Charlotte, NC and the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) in Atlanta, Georgia. A second SRP-related session, featuring Dr. Shea's work and titled, Examining Bioaccumulation & Biomagnification: Implications for Ecosystems and Human Health, was also conducted at NSTA and NABT, drawing 60 teachers. Continuing a multi-year collaboration with NCDENR, the RTC and the agency conducted an institute titled Environment & Health: Making Connections through Water Quality Investigations for 20 NC middle and high school science teachers. Dr. Alison Sanders, then a trainee in Rebecca Fry's lab, and Drs. Aitken and Shea presented their work. Two additional sessions were offered at NSTA: Making Superfund Relevant to Students and Introducing students to Environmental Justice: A NC Case Study, drawing 24 teachers.

Specific Aim 5: In spring 2013, the Research Translation Core reprised the popular Technology Development Boot Camp, co-sponsored by the RTC and the UNC Office of Technology Development. Eighteen participants, including GSGPH faculty and SRP trainees, learned how to translate new knowledge emerging from scientific research into useful products and services. Sessions emphasized University resources to support entrepreneurs, how to protect intellectual property, and basics of starting a company. Jackie Quay, Interim Director of the UNC Office of Technology Development, also attended a PI meeting to discuss intellectual property and commercialization with PIs, staff, and trainees, and RTC staff met with Don Holzworth, GSGPH Entrepreneur in Residence to outline a plan for individual meetings with PIs. In addition, in collaboration with the Duke RTC, the RTC is teaching a 2-credit seminar on Science Communication aimed at helping students develop skills in communicating science and translating research findings for non-academic audiences. A number of times during the semester, students will virtually connect with peers at Duke.

Significance

The RTC continues to build the capacity of NC state and local government agencies charged with protecting human health and the environment. For instance, several of their investigators are lending expertise to NRC committees considering how to manage exposure to environmental chemicals so that they best protect public health. Additionally, through a community interview project RTC staff assisted NCDHHS in assessing the effectiveness of its communications about fish consumption advisories, leading to recommendations for ways to protect sensitive populations with future advisories. The RTC also continued to assist the agency in informing residents about well water contamination in areas of North Carolina with high levels of arsenic. The UNC SRP continues to develop decision support tools that: integrate multiple sources of exposure and safety data using transparent, visual rankings; identify genetic pathways underlying the toxicity response to specific chemicals; and enable geospatial mapping of contamination and use of data from disparate geographic sources. As expected, new research opportunities have emerged from their interactions with government agencies, contributing to problem solving at contaminated sites in NC and elsewhere. The Research Translation Core has also introduced cutting edge science into local science centers and NC classrooms, increasing environmental health literacy of the general population, and are preparing ESE students to address the research needs of agencies and communities dealing with "real world" Superfund problems.

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