Environmental Exposure to Toxins and Disease Risks-Preview of Two Studies

image of a microscope in a lab

Faculty at the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences were awarded two grants from the Katherine Bisbee II Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation that support research projects related to environmental health. Drs. Caren Weinhouse and Stephen Lloyd are working in their individual labs on basic genetic research to understand disease risks and cellular response to environmental exposure to toxins, some of which may be present in the workplace. Each researchers is taking a unique approach to their work.

Professional photo of Carin Winehouse

Dr. Caren Weinhouse seeks to answer the question, “do environmental exposures occurring during early development increase the total number of genes that respond to a similar exposure later in life?” The project focuses on identifying biomarkers of gene exposure to cellular stress responses to environmental and workplace toxins. She is trying to understand if there is a biological “memory” when genes are exposed to toxins such as those in wildfire smoke. If Dr. Weinhouse can identify these biomarkers, populations vulnerable to reoccurring environmental exposures could receive individualized prevention and treatment. It is also anticipated that these biomarkers could help predict vulnerability to adverse health outcomes in advance.

Professional photo of Stephen Lloyd

Variations in the human genome can increase the risk of certain diseases such as cancer. This is especially the case when individuals are exposed to environmental toxins that damage DNA, causing mechanisms within cells to act to repair the damage. Dr. Stephen LlLoyd is investigating how damage to repair proteins can increase disease risks and may accumulate genetic mutations over time. If able to understand and isolate the connection between DNA repair and exposure to environmental toxins, we may be able to develop improved tools to evaluate individuals at risk of serious health problems.

Weinhouse and Lloyd plan on leveraging this local investment in their work to lay the foundation for future grants to advance their respective research agendas.