Event Highlight: 2012 CEEH Annual Retreat

CEEH members learn about facility cores during the round table session at the retreat.

Our 2012 Annual Retreat for the Center for Ecogenetics & Environmental Health (CEEH) took place on Friday, October 26, 2012 at UW Medicine-South Lake Union. The theme for the day was Emerging Issues in Ecogenetics: Exposome Research. Dr. John Groopman from the Bloomberg School of Public Health and chair of the CEEH external Science Advisory Board started us off by putting current Exposome research in context. Dr. Martyn T. Smith from the Superfund Research Project, University of California-Berkeley delivered a rousing Keynote address which was co-sponsored by the UW Superfund Research Program. After the keynote, CEEH exposure science researchers Drs. Michael Yost, Catherine Karr and Sheela Sathyanarayana, provided updates on CEEH research projects related to exposure sciences.

Later that morning, in order to further acquaint our investigators with the various services provided by our facility cores, each core presented a five minute "lightning talk." The Cores include: Functional Genomics and Proteomics; Exposure Assessment, Biomarkers & Metabolomics; Clinical and Translational Services,  Bioinformatics and Biostatistics, Technology Access, and Community Outreach and Ethics.

After lunch, two 20-minute roundtable conversations gave CEEH members the opportunity to learn more about the Facility Cores most relevant to their research interests and needs.

The day wrapped up with our 9 current CEEH pilot project recipients taking part in a "Pilot Slam" (5 minutes, 3 slides each). The Annual Gathering concluded with the presentation of the second annual CEEH Awards. The 2012 CEEH Public Engagement Award went to Julie Richman Fox for her work with the DEEDS Project in South Seattle. The Innovations in Research Award went to Chad Weldy as first author on the paper "Heterozygosity in the glutathione synthesis gene Gclm increases sensitivity to diesel exhaust particulate induced lung inflammation in mice" (Inhalation Toxicology, October, 2011). 


Event Highlight: Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals


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CEEH Junior Investigator Sheela Sathyanarayana presented "Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals: Translation from Research to Prevention" at the monthly Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH) webinar on October 24th. Dr. Sathyanarayana, a pediatrician, environmental health specialist, and Co-Director of the UW Northwest Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU), studies the effect of prenatal phthalate exposure on birth outcomes.

Children are the most vulnerable to adverse health effects from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals such as phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA). Phthalates are anti-androgens; prenatal exposure is associated with abnormalities of the male reproductive tract. BPA is an estrogen; prenatal exposure in animals is associated with breast and prostate tumors, and with metabolic changes that lead to obesity.

We have known for several years that phthalates and BPA, both used in the manufacture of plastics, can leach from flexible tubing, vinyl flooring, squeezable plastic toys, vinyl gloves, and carbonless register receipts. But recent studies suggest the largest source of phthalate and BPA exposure in humans is through the food supply. Canned food, processed food, meat, and dairy products are exposed to BPA and phthalates during processing. Cans may be lined with plastic that contains BPA; dairy products have higher concentrations of phthalates than other foods. Dr. Sathyanarayana suggests that milk is exposed to phthalates as it passes through flexible tubing and plastic storage containers during processing. She believes most phthalate and BPA exposure in food occurs in processing and packaging, before consumers bring it home.

A CEEH pilot grant awarded to Dr. Sathyanarayana supported a study that compared two interventions aimed at reducing exposure to phthalates and BPA. Ten families with young children participated. The first intervention was to provide each family with a week’s diet of catered fresh local foods; the second intervention was to provide a fact sheet describing ways to avoid exposure to phthalates and BPA in the diet, and encouraging participants to follow these suggestions. Urine phthalate and BPA concentrations were measured before, during, and after the intervention. The results? There was no change in urinary phthalate or BPA in the group given the fact sheet. Unexpectedly, urinary concentration of phthalates and BPA increased (P<.001) in the group who ate a catered fresh diet. Further investigation of the ingredients in the catered food identified contamination of a spice used in the preparation of some of the meals. Webinar participants were curious about what the spice was. Dr. Sathyanarayana reported that spices in general contain the same concentrations of phthalates as other foods and opined that the contamination was a fluke. Then she revealed that the contaminated spice was brown coriander. She asserted that evidenced-based and practical interventions are needed to reduce exposure, and suggested that federal regulation may be the only way to control contamination of the food supply by phthalates and BPA. 

Sathyanarayana's CEEH pilot project led to the NIEHS-supported TIDES (The Infant Development and the Environment) Study, a 3-site, 5-year longitudinal study assessing phthalate exposure in pregnant women and the effect on their offspring.

PEHSU Factsheets provide information to health care providers and the public about ways to reduce exposure to phthalates and BPA.


Event Highlight: Public Health Café on Seafood Safety

Discussion time at the PH Café
Our October 9th Public Health Café about safe seafood drew an energetic group that pretty much packed the private dining room at Chaco Canyon Cafe in West Seattle. Those who attended included folks from the West Seattle community, UW, EPA, the Seattle/King County Public Health and WA State Department of Health. Half were attending their first Public Health Cafe.

UW toxicologist and risk assessment expert Elaine Faustman talked about Puget Sound seafood. She said we have about the best wild fish population in the world right here in the PNW, and we should  protect it, enjoy it, and eat it. She advocated for cleaning industrial contaminants from the water and sediment,  and for preventing new contamination.

As for choosing which seafood to eat, Elaine recommends fish and shellfish that are highest in omega-3 fatty acids; for example, salmon. Farmed fish with the same diet as wild fish will have the same nutrition, but some farmed fish are fed food contaminated with PCBs, and are contaminated as a result. High density pens of farmed fish may also be given antibiotics. Fish farming needs to be regulated more carefully. Elaine advocates eating wild, free-range fish because it's likely safer, and it's more appealing to eat fish that has lived wild and free, like it's more appealing to eat free-range chicken.

For guidance on choosing your seafood, check out the Healthy Fish Guide from the WA Dept of Health. Seafood is an excellent source of lean protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and we should eat it, especially in the Puget Sound with its wide choice of fresh, local, wild seafood. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone eat at least 2 meals of seafood per week.

Alberto Rodriguez, Program Manager at the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, told us about the last 100 years on the Duwamish. The river was dredged and straightened and has been home to Seattle industry for a century. Now it's a Superfund site which means it's one of the most polluted places in the U.S. It's also a low-income and very diverse neighborhood whose residents include new immigrants, subsistence fishermen, and tribal members. The Muckleshoot and Suquamish Tribes have fishing rights on the river, and it is the home of the Duwamish Tribe.

Alberto told us the river looks clean to someone from the developing world. When it's part of your culture to catch your own dinner, other people are fishing, and you don't know whether to trust the government and its fish advisories, you may just ignore the fish advisory signs. It is important to communicate the dangers and, most importantly, to clean up the river so that fish-eating residents and tribal members have access to local seafood that's safe to eat.

Audience members reported they enjoyed this Public Health Cafe and the ambience at West Seattle's Chaco Canyon. As part of the evaluation at the end of the event, they were asked to write a short public health message that summarized what they were taking away from the event. Here's a sample of what they came up with:
  • Fish: Keep 'em Cleaner
  • The Signs Don't Lie. Fish Here and You Might Die.
  • Fish for Dinner? Make it a Winner!
  • Eat Fish, It's Wild.
  • On the Duwamish, Salmon are the Healthier Choice
The next Public Health Cafe will be on Tuesday, January 22 at Chaco Canyon Cafe, West Seattle. The topic is pesticides and food.