Environmental Factor – March 2022: Scientific innovation takes center stage at NIEHS board meeting
Emerging innovation will strengthen NIEHS-funded research and enable discoveries that lead to improvements in public health, according to presenters at the 165th meeting of the National Advisory Council on Environmental Health Sciences (NAEHSC), which took place held on February 15 and 16.
NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D., kicked off the meeting with updates on new research initiatives, scientific awards and personnel changes.
- Scientists from the institute’s Division of Intramural Research have discovered a potential therapy for bacterial pneumonia that targets host cells instead of bacterial cells. Treatment involves macrophages, which are white blood cells of the immune system that destroy bacteria, and anti-inflammatory compounds called epoxyeicosatrienoic acids, produced in mice and humans.
- Woychik also drew attention to papers from the year 2021. Out of nearly 4,000 publications, institute leaders selected 35 for special recognition.
Accelerating biomedical advances
Bruce Tromberg, Ph.D.director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), explained how his agency’s breakthroughs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic could advance broader research at the National Institutes of Health.
- Medical imaging, enhanced testing capabilities and digital health platforms were three avenues of innovation Tromberg spoke about. NIBIB was instrumental in creating the following.
- Woychik said NIEHS and NIBIB plan to collaborate. “We will explore the use of NIBIB’s expertise in bioengineering to create new technologies to collect environmental exposure data, integrate exposomics, and promote precision environmental health,” a- he noted.
Innovation in toxicology
Brian Berridge, DVM, Ph.D., scientific director of the NIEHS Division of National Toxicology (DNTP), provided an overview of the division’s recent efforts to spur greater innovation in toxicology research.
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning are among the tools DNTP scientists will use to deliver timely and human-relevant results that advance public health, he noted.
- “Innovation runs deep in our organization,” Berridge said. “We have a unique role to play as an incubator and driver of innovation in the field of toxicology.”
Oceans and human health, chemical threats
The NIEHS Oceans and Human Health (OHH) program has been approved for prosecution by board members.
- Anika Dzierlenga, Ph.D., who leads the OHH program, gave an overview of some of her major accomplishments, including the following.
The concept of research resources on inhalation exposure to hazardous chemicals was also endorsed by board members.
- Nadadur said the resource will expand researchers’ access to inhalation exposure facilities and enable in-depth exploration of chemical threats that affect the lungs and other organs. The goals are to enhance understanding of the pathophysiology of various chemicals of concern and to target the development of medical countermeasures for many understudied agents, for use in the event of accidental or intentional human exposure.
Children’s Environmental Health
Kimberly Gray, Ph.D., and Lindsey Martin, Ph.D., of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training, announced the formation of six new Environmental Health Research Translation Centers children. They were joined by a former NAEHSC member Nsedu Obot Witherspoonwho is the general manager of Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN).
- The goals are to expand scientific collaboration and develop new approaches to translate research into children’s environmental health so that communities and stakeholders can make informed health decisions. Centers will apply the NIEHS Translational Research Framework.
- The CEHN will serve as the coordinating center for these centres, which will be housed at Emory University(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/index.cfm?do=portfolio.grantDetail&grant_number=P2CES033430), Johns Hopkins University(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/index.cfm?do=portfolio.grantDetail&grant_number=P2CES033415), New York University(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/index.cfm?do=portfolio.grantDetail&grant_number=P2CES033423), Oregon State University(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/index.cfm?do=portfolio.grantDetail&grant_number=P2CES033432), University of Pennsylvania(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/index.cfm?do=portfolio.grantDetail&grant_number=P2CES033428)and University of Southern California(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/index.cfm?do=portfolio.grantDetail&grant_number=P2CES033433).
- A center will increase environmental health literacy in children by visually translating environmental exposures that occur in black communities in Atlanta. Linda McCauley, Ph.D.from Emory University, and Sun Joo Ahn, Ph.D.director of the Games and virtual environments laboratory at the University of Georgia, demonstrated how they will leverage virtual reality and other emerging media technologies to create child-friendly learning environments. Their efforts will visualize air pollution and other environmental factors.
The next NAEHSC meeting will be June 7-8.
(Jennifer Harker, Ph.D., is a technical writer-writer in the Office of Communications and Public Liaison at NIEHS.)