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UC Berkeley Press Release

NIEHS awards $4.7 million to help detect human exposure to environmental contaminants

– Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have received a $4.7 million grant to develop cutting edge methods for detecting diseases in humans exposed to environmental contaminants, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) announced today (Tuesday, Sept. 4).

The grant is part of the Exposure Biology Program of the Genes, Environment and Health Initiative at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The program seeks to develop innovative technologies to better understand the interplay of environmental exposures to contaminants and genetic variations on human disease.

Funds from the award will establish a new Center for Exposure Biology at UC Berkeley headed by Stephen Rappaport, adjunct professor of environmental health sciences. The center will focus on developing biomarkers and biosensors to allow cost-effective testing for blood cancer risks.

"The ability to characterize the health risks of environmental contaminants, and to understand the influence of genetic variability, is limited now because tests are cumbersome," said Rappaport. "To get conclusive information now would require careful collection and processing of blood samples from thousands of people over time, and that is prohibitively expensive. What we're trying to do is develop technology that will allow a large number of subjects to be tested and screened quickly and inexpensively."

The new center will host three interdisciplinary projects:

  • "Protein adductomics" - This project will focus on the use of protein adducts, which are compounds formed by reactions between blood proteins and chemical carcinogens, to identify initiators of human lymphomas. It will be led by Rappaport; Evan Williams, professor of chemistry and biophysics; and Mark van der Laan, professor of biostatistics.
  • Lab-on-a-Chip Microsystems - Technology will be developed for genetic analysis on single cells to identify biomarkers for early signs of leukemia and lymphoma. This project will be led by Richard Mathies, professor of chemistry; Martyn Smith, professor of environmental health sciences; and Luoping Zhang, associate adjunct professor of environmental health sciences.
  • Portable biosensors - A project to develop biosensors that can reduce immunoassays to a microscale level, making biomarker measurements practical for large epidemiology studies using single drops of blood from finger lancets, will be led by Bernhard Boser, professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences; Mathies of chemistry; and Rappaport of environmental health sciences.
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