Dr. Mirek Styblo awarded NIH grant to create ViCTER

Dr. Styblo

Dr. Styblo

In fall 2010, the team led by Dr. Mirek Styblo (UNC Nutrition) was awarded NIH grant to create Virtual Consortium for Translational/Transdisciplinary Environmental Research (ViCTER). This ViCTER is built around the existing NIH-funded project Environmental Arsenic and Diabetes Mellitus (PI, Styblo) that uses a translational approach to characterize the association between chronic exposure to arsenic (a common drinking water contaminant) and diabetes mellitus. The main goals of the parent project are to identify molecular mechanisms underlying the diabetogenic effects of arsenic, to identify metabolites of arsenic that are responsible for these effects, and to characterize genetic polymorphisms and dietary habits that are associated with increased susceptibility of individuals to arsenic-induced diabetes. A major part of the parent project is a population study in Chihuahua (Mexico). This study examines associations between exposure to arsenic in drinking water, metabolism of arsenic, diet, obesity, and risk of diabetes among Chihuahua residents who drink water with arsenic levels up to 800 μg/L. The genetic polymorphisms that are known to affect either arsenic metabolism or development of diabetes are also examined. ViCTER expands the scope of the parent project to include a comprehensive assessment of metabolomic and epigenomic biomarkers of arsenic exposure and diabetes associated with this exposure.

The ViCTER’s objectives are: (1) to examine a complete arsenic metabolome (arsenome) in urine of individuals who develop diabetes as a result of exposure to iAs; (2) to characterize tissue dosimetry for key metabolites of arsenic, using exfoliated urothelial cells; to identify (3) DNA methylation and (4) general metabolomic profiles associated with arsenic exposure and with arsenic-induced diabetes. The ultimate goal is to find specific biomarkers that will improve risk assessment of diabetes in arsenicosis-endemic areas and will help to identify individuals with increased susceptibility to the diabetogenic effects of chronic exposures to arsenic. ViCTER connects the existing structure of the parent project with new investigators in research and academic units in and outside of UNC (Figure 1). The investigators involved in the parent project are: Dr. John Buse (UNC School of Medicine), an expert on clinical diabetes; Dr. Zuzana Drobna (UNC Nutrition), molecular geneticist with expertise in nutrition; Dr. Dana Loomis, epidemiologist with a background in environmental exposure and health, and three leading toxicologists in Mexico, Drs. Luz Maria Del Razo (Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional), Gonzalo García-Vargas (Universidad Juárez del Estado de Durango), and Maria del Carmen Gonzáles-Horta (Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua). The following are new investigators who participate in ViCTER: <div”>

  • Dr. Rebecca Fry, leader for the epigenetic studies (UNC Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering)
  • Dr. Thomas O’Connell, leader for the metabolomic studies (The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences, RTP, NC)
  • Dr. Wei Jia, expert on metabolomics (UNC Greensboro Center for Research Excellence in Bioactive Food Components).


Additional ViCTER participants are the experts on arsenic metabolism and analysis who are associated with Dr. Styblo’s Gillings Innovation Laboratory:

  • Drs. Jiří Dědina and Tomáš Matoušek (Institute of Analytical Chemistry, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic)
  • Dr. Jack Creed (National Exposure Research Laboratory, US EPA)
  • Dr. David Thomas (National Health and Environmental Effects Laboratory, US EPA)

The ViCTER network will also include collaborators from the Biomarker Mass Spectrometry Facility of the UNC Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility, UNC Clinical obesity Research Center, Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis, and graduate students from the UNC Curriculum in Toxicology.