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University of Iowa News Release

Jan. 20, 2006

CHEEC Announces Seed Grant Recipients

Five University of Iowa researchers have received funding through the UI Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC) Seed Grant Program. A total of $135,473 was awarded, which represents more than one-third of CHEEC's allocated operating budget.

Charles Stanier, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, was awarded $23,800; Nervana Metwali, Ph.D., research assistant in occupational and environmental health, was awarded $29,990; Mark Young Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, was awarded $27,700; James Jacobus, a toxicology interdisciplinary doctoral student in occupational and environmental health, received $23,983; and Keri Hornbuckle Ph.D., associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and William Wombacher a civil and environmental engineering student, were awarded $30,000.

Stanier will develop a personal exposure-screening tool for predicting gas- and aerosol-phase vehicular air toxics. The tool will marry existing approaches for gaseous pollutants together with emerging techniques and data for size-resolved fine, ultrafine, and nanoscale particulate matter, mainly from diesel exhaust. Emphasis will be placed on creating an efficient model for general and screening use, rather than a highly detailed model for application to a specific location or exposure setting.

Metwali will use a mouse model to determine the extent that fungal glucans induce inflammatory responses in lung tissue, evaluate their specific immune responses and relate these findings to mechanisms of allergen-induced asthma. Glucans stimulate innate immune responses and are responsible for bioaerosol-induced respiratory symptoms in both indoor and occupational environments. The study will bring new understanding to the role of glucans with differing tertiary structure in the induction of inflammation and specific immunity.

Young's objective is to develop an advanced instrument capable of determining the aerodynamic size, approximate shape and detailed chemical composition of single bioaerosol particles sampled directly from the ambient atmosphere. The experimental methodology will integrate advanced solid-state laser sources and mass spectrometric techniques to fashion the instrument. The resultant device will be used in projects to characterize bioaerosols present in the environment, such as in agricultural workplaces; provide a sensitive detection capability for possible biohazards; and monitor bioaerosol transformations induced by chemical processing in the atmosphere.

Jacobus will investigate a novel target of PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) toxicity, the telomere. Telomeres are key cellular factors in carcinogenesis, cell signaling, and senescence. Oxidative stress has been shown to shorten telomeres and therefore reduce the protective buffer they provide to the chromosome. Researchers have implicated oxidative stress as the ultimate carcinogen resultant from PCB exposure. Positive findings in this study could open up an entirely new line of innovative interdisciplinary research, while providing a unifying explanation to the often-contradictory findings in PCB carcinogenesis.

Hornbuckle and Wombacher will evaluate the effectiveness of water treatment in removing fragrance compounds from drinking water. Synthetic musk fragrances are common additives to many household products. They have been found in wastewater effluent discharge and are considered to be common contaminants in surface waters. The effectiveness of conventional water treatment at removing synthetic fragrances is not well known. Some evidence suggests that removal efficiencies are very poor. This is a concern because many synthetic musk fragrances are endocrine disruptors and may present a health risk to humans.

The CHEEC seed grant program supports research across a range of innovative environmental health research topics. Results of these pilot-scale studies support the investigators' efforts to acquire additional federal or private grant funding. In the past five years, CHEEC seed grants have attracted an additional $3.8 million in external funding for researchers at the UI and Iowa State University.

For more information on these projects or CHEEC seed grants, call 319-335-4550 or visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5139 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

CONTACTS: Media: David Pedersen, 319-335-8032, Program and Writer: David Riley, 319-335-4016,