Texas A&M’s new environmental research center awards stimulating research at Texas A&M and across the Texas Medical Center

December 16, 2014

The Center for Translational Environmental Health Research (CTEHR), headquartered at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute for Biosciences and Technology in Houston, has awarded its first five pilot program grants, each intended to fund “high-risk, high-reward” science to better understand the effects of the environment on human health – with most recipients also receiving matching funds from their own organizations.

Researchers in lab

The Center for Translational Environmental Health Research (CTEHR) awarded its first five pilot program grants to researchers across The Texas A&M University System and University of Houston.

Named by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in April as the newest National Center of Excellence in Environmental Health Science, the CTEHR – a cross-institutional initiative which includes collaborators from across The Texas A&M University System, Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Houston – serves as the cornerstone for integrated environmental health research, translation of research advances into practice and community outreach and engagement aimed at improving human health.

As an integral component of the CTEHR, the Pilot Project Program is designed to enhance the overall mission of the center by advancing and promoting early-stage environmental health research, the hardest to fund via traditional funding sources, but the most important for launching “high-risk, high-reward” science.

Administered by Drs. Stephen Safe and Ben Morpurgo of Texas A&M University and Agrilife Research, the Pilot Project Program was cited as one of the strengths of CTEHR at the time the Center received it’s designation from the NIH, and is continuing into its third year under the leadership of Drs. Safe and Morpurgo.

Texas A&M researchers receiving CTEHR pilot program grants include Clinton D. Allred, associate professor, Department of Nutrition and Food Science; Leslie Cizmas, assistant professor, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, School of Public Health; Gerard L. Cote, department head, Biomedical Engineering and the Charles H. & Bettye Barclay Professor of Biomedical Engineering; and, receiving a joint grant, Robin Fuchs-Young, professor, College of Medicine and Mick Deutz, director of the Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity. Funding was also awarded to Maria Bondesson Bolin, research assistant professor in the Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling at the University of Houston.

Allred, along with co-principal investigator Arul Jayaraman, professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, will receive a $25,000 grant to support their project titled, “The role of estrogenic compounds and their metabolites in colonic inflammation” which will be matched by the College of Engineering and Department of Nutrition and Food Science for a total project budget of $50,000.

Cizmas’ project, “A multi-step approach to assessing the toxicity of drinking water disinfection by­ products following chlorination, chloramination or a novel fen·ate disinfection process,” will receive $25,000 from CTEHR to support this research and Virender Sharma, interim department head of the Texas A&M School of Public Health Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, has committed $25,789 in matching funds.

Cote’s project, “Blood-based point-of-care system to measure radiation exposure using citrulline as a biomarker,” has a total budget of $50,000. CTEHR will provide $25,000 to support this research and Dr. Costas Georghiades has committed $25,000 in matching funds from the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station/College of Engineering.

Fuchs-Young and Deutz applied jointly for their project, “A quantifiable biological endpoint to assess the impact of an educational intervention on control of childhood asthma in the Rio Grande Valley.” CTEHR will provide $25,000 to support this research and the College of Medicine and Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine has committed matching funds to support the total project budget of $50,000.

Bondesson Bolin will receive $25,000 to support her project titled “Modes of action of vascular disrupting compounds” and the Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling has committed matching funds, to total $50,000.

As pilot project award recipients and center members, all grant recipients will also have access to the center’s facility cores and qualify for subsidies to further leverage their research

“Through a unique team science approach, members of the CTEHR are unlocking the mysteries of environmental health through new discoveries aimed at improving human health,” said Cheryl Lyn Walker, Ph.D., director of the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology and director of the CTEHR. “The center aims to accelerate innovative scientific discoveries and move them from bench-to-bedside, across translational boundaries, and from the laboratory to the clinic and ultimately to communities to improve human environmental health.”

One of only 21 centers of excellence in the country, the CTEHR is poised to lead the state and nation in better understanding the effects of the environment on human health. The center’s members are focused on translating research advances in environmental causes of disease to improve detection, prevention and management of diseases induced or worsened by environmental exposures.

— Holly Shive

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