Superfund Research Program
The MIT Superfund Research Program: A Systems Approach for the Protection of Human Health from Hazardous Chemicals
Center Director: Bevin P. Engelward
Grant Number: P42ES027707
Funding Period: 2017-2027
N-Nitrosamines are a family of hazardous chemicals that are among the most mutagenic chemicals known, and many are potently carcinogenic in animal models. People living in Wilmington, Massachusetts, are concerned about N-nitrosamines because there are over 20 million gallons of N-nitrosamine-contaminated waste at the nearby Olin Chemical Superfund Site, contaminating the environment and rendering their well water undrinkable. The Passamaquoddy Tribe is also concerned about N-nitrosamines because their water contains high levels of organic material, and the use of chloramine is known to create N-nitrosodimethylamine.
Aim 1 is to make and measure. Researchers are creating innovative, light-based chemical sensors that exploit smartphones for use in citizen science to gain information that will help to inform cleanup by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They are creating innovative, high-throughput “animate sensors,” based on cell-microarray technology, for testing the consequences of N-nitrosamines on health-related impacts known to be associated with cancer risk. To understand disease more deeply, a genetically engineered “canary in the coal mine” mouse model will be used to reveal the potential for long-term, low-dose exposure to cause mutations and deleterious biological responses.
Aim 2 is to protect human health via prediction and prevention of disease. By integrating multi-omics data (fueled by the Data Management and Analysis Core [DMAC]), mechanistic knowledge is propelling the development of predictive biomarkers that can be used to develop methods to prevent disease. The team is studying the potential for probiotics to suppress N-nitrosamine-induced cancer. In addition, they are creating novel devices to destroy N-nitrosamines via electrochemical and biochemical destruction. Importantly, risk evaluation depends on knowledge from both engineers and biologists. The DMAC thus forms a critical integrating role by merging transdisciplinary data streams to evaluate risk for specific water samples.
Aim 3 is to maximize societal impact via integration within the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Superfund Research Program (SRP) and with partners outside of MIT. Partnering with the community allows collection of environmental data that informs risk. Via bidirectional communication, community members also benefit from novel, hands-on teaching kits, while MIT SRP members benefit from learning about community perspectives and concerns. Dissemination of MIT SRP knowledge and technologies is also achieved via continued strengthening of relationships between the MIT SRP and local, state, tribal and governmental agents, including community members who are most impacted by N-nitrosamine contamination. All of this work is be made possible by careful coordination and formalization of translation opportunities (made possible by the Administrative Core), and by continuous improvement of training opportunities that not only fuel the research (made possible by the Research Experience and Training Coordination Core [RETCC]), but also help to ensure that trainees go on to contribute as responsible leaders who are able to leverage cross-disciplinary research in order to have a powerful impact on public health.