Event Highlight: Third Annual Center Research and Public Engagement Awards

The 2014 Annual CEEH Awards for Innovations in Research and Public Engagement were presented at the Annual Center Retreat on December 3rd. 

The Innovations in Research Award recognizes the author or authors of a single, high-impact publication supported by CEEH and celebrates ground-breaking research that furthers the CEEH mission of building capacity, facilitating collaboration through communication, and inspiring creativity, which promotes innovative research, engages stakeholders, and launches the next generation of research and ecogenetics (gene-environment interactions) researchers.

The 2014 Innovations in Research Award went to Ed Kelly and co-authors Zhican Wang, Jenna Voellinger, Cathy Yeung, Danny Shen, Kenneth Thummel, Ying Zheng, Giovanni Ligresti, Dave Eaton, Kimberly Muczynski, Jeremy Duffield, Thomas Neumann, Anna Tourovskaia, Mark Fauver, Greg Kramer, Elizabeth Asp, and Jonathan Himmelfarb for their paper "Innovations in preclinical biology: ex vivo engineering of a human kidney tissue micro perfusion system" published in Stem Cell Research and Therapy.

Kidney disease affects more than 20 million adults in the US, yet little is understood about the impact of kidney disease on drug disposition. There is a need for improved understanding of drug efficacy, safety, and toxicity, especially during drug development. Kelly and his team plan to model the human kidney tubule interstitium using a 3-dimensional modular microphysiological system using cells derived from the human kidney. This system is intended to accurately reflect human physiology, allowing the researchers to predict how the kidneys handle drug disposition, and to assess kidney injury and the biological response to injuries caused by toxicants from both within and outside the body.

The Public Engagement Award recognizes an individual or team for creative, innovative, and meaningful work with communities beyond the university.

The 2014 Public Engagement Award went to PhD candidate Lorelei Walker for her creative and informative 3-minute video, “Engaging Epigenetics: A Tool for Stakeholder Education”, funded in part by the CEEH Community Outreach and Engagement Core (COEC). 

Lorelei's animated video describes epigenetics as the process that regulates our genes. All our cells have the same DNA: Our brain, skin, and white blood cells are different because epigenetics turns different genes on and off in different types of cells. If this epigenetic system is altered, genes can be turned on and off in the wrong cells or at the wrong time. 

Some chemicals can change our epigenetics and how our genes are regulated. The video uses pesticides, BPA and air pollutants as examples of chemicals that can remove gene regulators, and with excessive exposure, make us more vulnerable to getting sick. 

The video concludes by encouraging viewers to avoid BPA and foods with high pesticide residues, be informed voters, and to advocate for a healthier environment for ourselves and our children. 

Congratulations to Ed Kelly and team, and to Lorelei Walker. Keep up the great work!

--Marilyn Hair