November 3, 2008

courtney kozul

Courtney Kozul

Courtney Kozul receives the 2008 Karen Wetterhahn Award

Ph.D. candidate Courtney Kozul received the 2008 Karen Wetterhahn Award from the New England Membrane Enzyme Group (NUTMEG) at their annual conference in Woods Hole, Mass. Kozul is a graduate student in the Program in Experimental and Molecular Medicine and is supported by the Superfund Basic Research Program at Dartmouth and Dartmouth Medical School. The award honors the late Dartmouth chemistry professor Karen Wetterhahn. Kozul studies the effects of chronic low-dose arsenic exposure. "The most exciting part of my research is making an impact on an environmental health problem that affects millions of people around the world," she says. Kozul also recently received recognition for "Best Oral Presentation" at the Oct. 23 International Central and Eastern European Conference on Health and the Environment in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

October 20, 2008

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

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.

superfund 2008

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 Punshon, 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.

August 20, 2008

Dartmouth workshop sets research agenda for environmental mercury

Celia and Nancy

Celia Y. Chen '78 (left) and Nancy Serrell worked to develop research agenda (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Embracing the belief that an interdisciplinary and coordinated research agenda can have a profound impact on advancing science and influencing policy, a group of experts has developed a roadmap for improving our understanding of how mercury moves through the marine ecosystem and into the fish we eat.

Members of Dartmouth's Toxic Metals Research Program convened the group of 43 leading scientists, environmental regulators, and public health experts in November 2006 to set priorities for a research and biomonitoring agenda that can inform environmental regulation and public health policy. Their report is published in the current issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The group put a priority on monitoring and research across habitats with an integrated approach that considers the poorly understood links among marine sources, biotransfer processes, and bioaccumulation mechanisms that put humans at risk of exposure to mercury. For example, one unanswered question: does the toxic form of mercury produced and bioaccumulated in coastal ecosystems end up in fish such as tuna caught in the open ocean?

"We are intimately connected to the ocean ecosystem," says Celia Chen, a research associate professor of biology at Dartmouth and the lead author of the paper. "For example, seafood is one of the few wild foods still consumed by large numbers of people. Though we know that the mercury found in marine fish and shellfish poses a threat to humans - not to mention the ecosystem itself - we know very little about the physical and geochemical processes that link mercury in the atmosphere to the toxic form found in seafood."

Many of the 43 scientists at the 2006 workshop in Durham, N.H., have done extensive research on the way mercury accumulates in fish and other wildlife that inhabit inland forests, streams, lakes, and reservoirs. The meeting, titled "Fate and Bioavailability of Mercury in Aquatic Ecosystem and Effects on Human Exposure," also included experts on mercury in marine systems. All gathered agreed that insights from freshwater and upland systems should be applied to understanding mercury in marine ecosystems.

Dartmouth's Toxic Metals Research Program has been supported since 1995 by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' Superfund Basic Research Program (SBRP). The 2006 workshop, funded by the SBRP with support from the New Hampshire SeaGrant Program, addressed three major themes: the biogeochemical cycling of mercury in marine ecosystems, the mechanisms of mercury transfer in the food web, and the risk of human exposure of mercury from seafood and shell fish consumption.

"Science should inform regulatory and public health decisions about issues such as the accumulation of mercury in our environment," says Nancy Serrell, the director of outreach at Dartmouth and a co-author on the paper. "The Superfund Basic Research Program provides support for workshops such as these that interpret findings in terms useful to decision makers that incorporate their perspectives into the research agenda."

Future efforts will include convening workshops to compile and evaluate existing mercury data in marine environments and in seafood.

Additional authors on the Environmental Health Perspectives paper include: David C. Evers with the BioDiversity Research Institute in Gorham, Maine; Bethany J. Fleishman formerly with the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Research Program; Kathleen F. Lambert, formerly with the Ecologic: Analysis & Communications in Woodstock, Vt., and currently the Dartmouth Sustainability Manager; Jeri Weiss with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Robert P. Mason with the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Connecticut; and Michael S. Bank with the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health.