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.

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).