Message from the Director – Climate Change and Health

The decision in Washington last week to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, which was signed by 195 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, is a step in the wrong direction, at a time when more, not less, is needed. Even the negotiators of the Agreement pointed out that collectively, the goals set by individual countries for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions were insufficient to avert adverse impacts of climate change. Moreover, nothing was binding, no penalties are imposed for non-compliance, and no commitments were made to assist the most vulnerable populations. Nevertheless, the mere fact of an Agreement that included nearly all nations was historic and symbolized a collective will to tackle this global issue. In light of the UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center (EHSC) mission “to advance understanding of environmentally-induced disease and disability, and develop interventions that reduce harmful exposures or mitigate their effects on health”, over the last several months, the EHSC has moved towards a new thrust in Climate Change. With our expertise in epidemiology, toxicology, molecular biology, behavioral sciences, exposure sciences, informatics, bioengineering, and community-scientist partnerships, we are poised to play a pivotal role in addressing adaptation for human health and

Ana Cristina Grodzki, PhD – Department of Molecular Biosciences

Developmental exposure to organophosphorus pesticide to evaluate airway hyperreactivity Epidemiological studies have linked organophosphorus pesticide (OP) exposure to increased risk of asthma in children and adults, yet preclinical evidence supporting this causal link is limited. Dr. Grodzki’s previous work has shown that the OP chlorpyrifos causes airway hyperreactivity (AHR) at low doses that do not inhibit acetylcholinesterase. However, current understanding of the mechanisms involved in OP-induced AHR is incomplete and the question of whether developmental OP exposure could lead to asthmatic symptoms has not been addressed in preclinical models. Dr. Grodzki is investigating the effects of developmental chlorpyrifos exposures on AHR using physiological measurements of lung function and markers of neurogenic inflammation in animal models.

Laura Van Winkle, PhD – Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Cell Biology

Ozone and lung remodeling More than 4 in 10 US people live in areas with unhealthy levels of ozone. The San Joaquin Valley (SJV) is a hot spot of high ozone exposures. Four of the top 7 most ozone polluted cities in the US are in the SJV where ozone affects more than 1 million children. Ozone exposure during childhood alters lung growth – even healthy young adults from high ozone environments have decreased lung function – yet the mechanisms are little understood. Much research has focused on ozone exacerbation of asthma. Dr. Van Winkle and her team are trying to develop a better understanding of how early life exposure to ozone alters normal lung development. Specifically, the researchers will measure growth in a specific region of the lung, the alveoli, using an animal model and will also determine how ozone exposure early in life alters the growth of alveoli.

Jill Silverman, PhD – Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Behavioral and neuroimaging phenotypes following early life pesticide exposure Worldwide, organophosphate pesticides are the most commonly used class of pesticides. Epidemiological studies have linked their use to autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, developmental delay, and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Currently, the impacts of early-life exposure to low doses that are representative of what people and, in particular, pregnant women and children may experience, have not been well-studied. Dr. Silverman’s project is measuring the effects of exposure to chlorpyrifos, a widely used organophosphate, during early life on behavioral endpoints and underlying brain anomalies in a rodent model.

Neil Hunter, PhD – Department of Microbiology

Effects of atrazine on the developing ovary Atrazine, a widely used weed killer is a common contaminant found in drinking water. Atrazine is a member of a family of chemicals called the xenoestrogens that mimic the hormone estrogen and thereby disrupt endocrine function. Another xenoestrogen, bisphenol-A (BPA), causes problems in female reproduction. BPA leads to a “grand-maternal effect” that increases the likelihood of developmental problems in grandchildren. Even subtle defects in processes of female reproduction can lead to miscarriage or chromosomal disorders such as Down Syndrome. Dr. Hunter and his team will investigate whether similar effects in female reproduction and birth outcomes are associated with exposure to atrazine.

Christoph Vogel, PhD – Department of Environmental Toxicology

Noninvasive imaging of immune responses induced by environmental pollutants Exposure to air pollutants and particulate matter (PM) contribute to an increased risk for cardiovascular and pulmonary health problems resulting from chronic inflammation. Dr. Chris Vogel is using a new method for noninvasive imaging of immune responses, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The goal of the project is to identify the specific sites of inflammation following exposure to particulate matter and potentially other types of environmental exposures.

Kent Pinkerton, PhD – Department of General Pediatrics

Health effects of airborne particulate matter near the Salton Sea: A Community-based exploratory project in the Imperial Valley, CA. The Salton Sea is a man-made, saline lake, located in southeastern California, in the Imperial and Coachella valleys. As a result of climate change, drought, agricultural practices, rural-urban water transfers, the Salton Sea is a polluted and shrinking lake. Communities are concerned about high rates of asthma and the potential role of the Salton Sea as a source of air pollution, both from hydrogen sulfide from the lake bed, and airborne dust and toxic particulate matter, and other health hazards stemming from the lake’s deteriorating water quality and increasingly exposed banks. For this project, Dr. Pinkerton and his team are investigating how particulate matter (ambient PM2.5 and PM10) might sensitize the immune system to house dust mite (HDM) allergen. In particular, the researchers are interested in understanding the role of inflammation, oxidative stress and other pathways of PM-mediated immunotoxicity in the Imperial Valley. The team is working in collaboration with The Environmental Justice Coalition for Water (EJCW) and Comité Cívico del Valle (CCV), and the communities of of Brawley and Calipatria.

Angela Haczku, MD, PhD – Department of Internal Medicine

Immune mechanisms of ozone-induced lung inflammation in non-human primates Persistent exposure to air pollution leads to changes in immune function in the respiratory system. These changes can trigger allergic asthma and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. Exposure to high levels of ozone, a major toxic air pollutant, worsens asthma and COPD symptoms. While the exact mechanisms of ozone induced airway disease are not understood, Dr. Haczku and her team are investigating the role of innate lymphoid cells (ILC), specifically the activation of pulmonary and circulating ILC following ozone exposure and the relationship between ILC counts and the extent of airway hyperresponsiveness (a major feature of asthma).

EHS Center Hosts First Academy Day

The first ever UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) Academy Day on March 21 brought together multi-disciplinary researchers and community-based organizations to discuss concerns about environmental health impacts, specifically those centered on water safety and contamination issues in the Central Valley. Academy Day provided attendees with opportunities for mutual learning and information sharing. The aim was to get individuals thinking about how scientists and communities can work together to solve environmental problems and translate science into action and policy.

Domoic Acid Workshop to be held at UC Davis on May 4th

The UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center, the UC Davis Counter ACT Center and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment will host a workshop, Domoic Acid: Evaluating the State of the Science and Implications for Human Toxicity. The event will be held on the UC Davis campus in the Buehler Alumni Center. Domoic acid is a neurotoxin that is produced by some species of the algae Pseudo-nitzschia and can accumulate in shellfish, including crustaceans. Following large algal blooms along the California coast, the contamination of shellfish can be widespread. Consuming contaminated shellfish poses potential health concerns for both humans and marine mammals. The workshop will explore dose levels that induce adverse effects and the spectrum of endpoints. Program details and registration information can be found on the workshop website. Space is limited to register early!