Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 07:53
The Toxicology Project of the BBRC was formed to foster and support research on various aspects of environmental health issues, especially related to heavy metal contamination and air pollution in the U.S.-Mexico border area. This Project supports faculty investigators with specialized equipment, facilities, and staff to meet the demands of toxicology research and provides presentation and professional development opportunities to toxicology investigators. Supporting this mission will enhance our efforts to secure extramural funding for research and education on pollutants in the border region.
Human health impacts of environmental toxicants remains a significant concern in El Paso County. The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), one of the country's premier minority-serving institutions, has initiated a robust research program in Toxicology through the BBRC. The Toxicology Project also promotes the U.S.-Mexico partnerships investigating environmental health issues. We have active collaborations with Texas Tech Medical School, La Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez, International Boundary and Water Commission, and William Beaumont Army Medical Center. Through these collaborative efforts better management of our natural resources and an understanding of the impacts of contaminants (cellular to ecosystem level) will lead to better conditions for human and environmental health.
The Specific Aims of the Toxicology Project are as follows:
1. Implement further studies into water quality and contaminant levels in the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez stretch of the Rio Grande as well as groundwater and other regional water sources and our urban airshed.
2. Recruit two new faculty members with research expertise in pharmacology or respiratory toxicology.
3. Increase translational research in pharmacology and toxicology with an impact on the El Paso region.
To achieve these objectives over the next 5 year period, we will:
1) fill two additional pharmacologist- toxicologist positions,
2) provide technical support personnel for the Aquatic Toxicology Wet Laboratory,
3) apply for an NIEHS training grant when the RFA is released, and
4) travel to scientific meetings and workshops to present research findings, identify emerging areas of concern, initiate new collaborations and recruit students and post-doctoral researchers to the Toxicology program at the Unversity of Texas at El Paso.
•To contribute to the health and education of people in the El Paso / Cuidad Juarez community
•To increase the number of trained toxicologists in the border region while addressing toxicological issues of national and regional concern, including increasing our understanding of chemical hazards, exposure, dose, toxicokinetics, and mechanisms.
Dr. Elizabeth J Walsh is Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and the Director of the Toxicology Project. The main focus of her work is water quality and impacts of toxicants on aquatic ecosystems. She is particularly interested in a) affects of heavy metals on freshwater invertebrates, b) mechanisms of metal detoxification, and c) impacts of pharmaceutical residuals on aquatic populations. The goal of this research is to better understand how anthropogenic releases into the environment impact natural ecosystems with a regional focus on the Rio Grande and other Chihuahuan desert waters (US & Mexico). Understanding how these pollutants impact water quality will help decision makers make better choices for our water resources that are critical for human and ecosystem health.
Dr. Renato Aguilera has established a High Throughput Screening (HTS) drug screening facility to determine the activity of a novel compounds on cancer cell lines and a variety of microbial agents. With the use of HTS equipment, his group has recently developed assays for screening of chemical libraries on a variety of human cancer cells. The ultimate goal of these assays is to discover compounds that can kill specific cancer cells but not others. In recent months, the simultaneous screening of compounds of various human cancer cell lines has resulted in the detection of novel lead compounds with potent anti-lymphoma and anti-breast cancer activities. This research involves the participation and training of several undergraduates and graduate students; the majority of whom are from underrepresented minority groups.
Dr. Marc Cox is an Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences. His research focuses on the molecular mechanisms of toxicity mediated through receptors such as the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), the orphan nuclear receptors PXR and CAR, and steroid hormone receptors (endocrine disruption). Dr. Cox is also interested in environmental pollution monitoring, and he hopes to use his various receptor functional assays in the lab to test environmental samples (e.g. soil and water) for the presence of contaminants, including polyaromatic hydrocarbons and endocrine disrupting chemicals. In addition, Dr. Cox is interested in developing these assays, some of which are sensitive enough to detect low picomolar amounts of ligand, into tests that can be used in the field to monitor contaminant levels. Simple field test like these would make routine testing more feasible and help prevent environmental exposures that can lead to a wide range of adverse health effects in both wildlife and humans.
Dr. Joanne T Ellzey is a Professor of Biological Sciences and Director of the BBRC Analytical Cytology Core Facility. Her laboratory studies a) lead uptake and the effects of EDTA on lead-tissue concentrations in the desert shrub Prosopis, b) 3-D reconstruction of the Golgi Apparatus from Scherffilia dubia, c) studies of the cytoskeleton of Schizosaccharomyces pombe and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and d) possible links between arsenic in drinking water and the onset of Diabetes-type 2. Lead and arsenic contamination are known to be prevalent in soils in the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez metroplex. Investigating how these metals may impact human and plant life in the community are of vital concern.
Dr. Robert Kirken is Professor and Chair of Biological Sciences, one of the PIs of the UTEP BBRC, and Program Director. The goal of the laboratory is to understand the intracellular signaling pathways responsible for mediating T cell activation so that rational strategies to regulate immune responses can be achieved. The intracellular molecules activated by JAK3 are not readily known nor the genes it regulates. Through critical analysis of these signaling pathways it will be possible to utilize pharmaceuticals to manipulate these secondary messengers and subsequently modulate an immune response. Ultimately, these studies will enable Dr. Kirken's lab to develop novel immunomodulatory drugs with therapeutic potential against important clinical conditions such as graft-versus-host disease, allergy, and autoimmune disorders. Rates of allergies and autoimmune disorders (especially lupus and diabetes) are high in the El Paso/Cd. Juarez area.
Dr. Wen-Yee Lee is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry. The research projects in her group are a) fate and transport of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in soil, air, and water, b) the occurrence and concentration of POPs in breast milk, and c) occurrence and concentration of endocrine disrupting chemicals in wastewater. Wastewater treatment continues to be a health concern in the region, as facilities in Cd. Juarez are primary treatment operations with limited budgets for supporting operations. Sewage effluents from Cd. Juarez and El Paso have major impacts on local and regional water quality. Dr. Lee's research is the first in our region to investigate the prevalence of endocrine disrupting chemicals in our local water sources.
Dr. Christina Sobin, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology investigates how selected brain mechanims alter behavior during development. She does so by studying low-level lead exposure and other physiologic conditions of childhood that disrupt glutamate/GABA pathways. She characterizes and quantifies the neurocognitive and behavioral deficits associated with these conditions, and then develops mouse models to explore the neuropathologic mechanisms that might account for observed behavioral and learning deficits. Dr. Sobin's work is translational and integrates methods from the fields of neuropsychology, neuroendocrinology, and neuroscience. The range of conditions studied in her laboratory is intentionally broad, and ranges from toxicant exposure to genetic disorders (22q11deletion syndrome). By studying diverse conditions with shared neuropathologic mechanisms, she is developing a unified model of how behavior is affected over time by cumulative damage in particular brain pathways.
Dr. Jorge Gardea-Torresdey is Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry. The research in his laboratory focuses on: a) phytormediation of toxic metals and metalloids, b) the use of phytohormones and chelating agents to improve the phytoremediation potential of plants, and c) uncovering the mechanisms of heavy metal adsorption by biomass for the improvement of metal phytoremediation. His group also works on developing the use of nanoparticles to solve environmental health problems. Results from his work could provide ways in which to bioremediate local arsenic and lead contamination.
Dr. Giulio Francia, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, obtained his Ph.D. from the laboratory of Professor Ian R. Hart at Imperial Cancer Research Fund, UK, on the identification of genes involved in the development of metastatic melanoma. He then undertook postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Professor Robert S. Kerbel at the University of Toronto, where he began to develop models of spontaneously metastatic breast cancer in mice, and in particular ERBB2-positive metastatic breast cancer, which were used to test the effect of ERBB2-specific antibody (trastuzumab)-based therapies on spontaneously metastatic disease. He is interested in the biology of metastasis, and on the development of preclinical models of metastasis to study the effect of different therapeutic approaches on the growth of metastatic tumours.
Dr. George Di Giovanni is Professor, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Texas-Houston School of Public Health (El Paso Campus). His research program specializes in the detection, infectivity determination, and molecular analysis of waterborne pathogens. Current research includes the quantitative molecular detection of protozoan, viral and bacterial pathogens; assessment of the efficacy of ultraviolet light disinfection of drinking water and wastewater; microbiological safety of reclaimed water; and microbial source tracking to determine the human and animal sources of fecal pollution of water supplies. Much of his research addresses the needs of the drinking water and wastewater industries.
Dr. Ricardo Bernal is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry. His research interests are primarily focused on the mechanisms that lead to the efficient and precise assembly of large macromolecular complexes from heterogeneous subunits. By combining cryo-Electron Microscopy (cryo-EM) and X-ray crystallography, many of the limitations of each individual technique can be overcome. By fitting in high-resolution X-ray structures of individual components into a relatively low-resolution cryo-EM reconstruction, we can overcome the resolution limitations of electron microscopy. Detailed knowledge of atomic interactions may also provide insight so that it may be possible to design inhibitors that block the interaction of the toxic chemical to its target.
Dr. Juan Noveron is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry. His research focus is on the synthesis and characterization of functional bio-inorganic materials with precise molecular composition. In particular, we employ molecular self-assembly processes to develop supramolecular materials with DNA delivery properties. The efficient delivery of genetic material into the nuclei of appropriate cells is one of the greatest challenges in gene therapy. This implies the encapsulation and cell-selective delivery of large segments of DNA. Materials with these abilities will have applications in toxicology especially in terms of drug delivery.
Jianying Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences. Research in Dr. Zhang’s laboratory mainly focuses on the identification and characterization of tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) as diagnostic markers of human cancer, particularly in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). His overall goal of the lab is to determine whether a mini-array of multiple TAAs would enhance antibody detection that would be useful non-invasive approach for the early detection of human HCC. The expected results from Dr. Zhang’s project will contribute to the reduction of disparities associated with the mortality of HCC, which disproportionately affects Hispanic communities, particularly in the El Paso region.