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>  News Releases >   2008 >   October

Dartmouth's Toxic Metals Research Group awarded $14.5 million grant renewal, bringing total awarded to over $40 million

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 10/20/08 • Media Contact: Public Affairs • (603) 646-3661 

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Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Medical School scientists have been awarded a renewal grant of $14.5 million dollars from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) through the Superfund Basic Research Program to understand the human health impact of exposure to arsenic and mercury.  Not only does this renewal grant, which will carry through to 2013, support one of the longest running, continually funded interdisciplinary science projects at Dartmouth, it also represents one of the longest continually funded programs in the history of the NIEHS Superfund Basic Research Program.  Since its inception in 1995, the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Research Group has been awarded $42.8 million from the NIEHS.

Members of the Dartmouth Superfund Research Team
Members of the Dartmouth Superfund Research Team: L-R back row: Angline Andrew, Bruce Stanton, Jason Moore, Brian Jackson; L-R front row: Carol Folt, Celia Chen, Tracy Punchon, Margaret Karagas, Dean Wilcox (photo by Mark Washburn)

Arsenic and mercury remain the number one and number three most important chemicals of concern for human health worldwide, respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Determining the impact of these metals on human health and their transport through ecosystems are the principal goals of the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Research Group.

"The Dartmouth research projects are characterized by breadth, depth and impact," said Bruce Stanton, the Program Director and Professor of Physiology at Dartmouth Medical School. "They include studies of mercury bioaccumulation in fish and seafood and arsenic bioaccumulation in rice, investigations of the molecular mechanisms by which arsenic elicits its adverse health effects, and assessments of the reproductive and developmental effects of arsenic and mercury in the offspring of women in New Hampshire."

The grant also supports a number of projects led by Nancy Serrell, Dartmouth's Director of Outreach, designed to translate the findings of the research for policy makers, public health officials, environmental regulators, community groups, and other stakeholders. In addition, the grant supports the training of new scientists at the undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral level in laboratories of researchers in the Arts & Sciences, DMS and the Thayer School of Engineering. Stanton also notes, whimsically, that even Google recognizes their success - "if you type 'toxic metals' into the search engine, our website is the third most popular site listed," he said.

The program's sustained attention to toxic metals has led to research findings that have significantly advanced science and public policy in this realm.

"The longevity and high caliber of Dartmouth's program is noteworthy and represents a true interdisciplinary team effort," said Carol Folt, Dartmouth Professor of Biological Sciences and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Dartmouth research has informed federal decision makers on matters of mercury in aquatic food webs; group members were influential in making the lead and arsenic laws in New Hampshire more protective of public health; school teachers in New England have been guided in developing projects for K-12 students; and scientists trained in the program have won awards and advanced into leadership positions." A founding member of the program, Folt has been associate director since 1998.

The late Professor of Chemistry Karen Wetterhan, a world expert in chromium toxicology, first assembled the research group twelve years ago. The team included epidemiologists, molecular toxicologists, geochemists, ecologists, and physicians. Over the past decade the group has published hundreds of scholarly articles, mentored roughly 100 trainees -undergraduates, graduates and postdoctoral fellows and formed research collaborations with more than 30 faculty across the institution.

"Their team has made notable scientific advances and is a model for the successful development of a truly interdisciplinary, program-wide approach with a focus not only on scientific advancement, but also on education and translational activities. Dartmouth is very proud of their accomplishments," says Provost Barry Scherr

Four Dartmouth faculty members have conducted research with the group since its inception: Folt; Margaret Karagas, an Associate Director and a Professor and Chair of Community and Family Medicine at Dartmouth Medical School; Celia Chen '78, a Research Associate Professor of Biological Sciences; and Dean Wilcox, Professor of Chemistry. Josh Hamilton, currently the Chief Academic and Scientific Officer of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., is also one of the original members, a principal investigator on the renewal grant and was the Director the program from 1997 to 2007.

Other principal investigators on the grant include Stanton, and Mary Lou Guerinot, Professor of Biological Sciences, who joined the program for the first time with this renewal, and Core Leaders, Serrell; Jason Moore, Associate Professor of Genetics at Dartmouth Medical School; and Brian Jackson, Research Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Director of the Trace Elements Analysis Laboratory. 

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