Rusyn receives NIEHS grant to develop better models for testing chemical hazards

December 21, 2007
Photograph, Dr. Ivan Rusyn

Photograph, Dr. Ivan Rusyn

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Massachusetts Institute of Technology has received a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) which may yield knowledge about why some people are more likely than others to be affected by exposure to toxic chemicals.

Led by Ivan Rusyn, MD, PhD, associate professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the UNC School of Public Health and principal investigator, the research effort will establish a partnership between environmental health scientists, biological engineers, cheminformaticians, biostatisticians and geneticists.

The funding comes from a National Institutes of Health bioengineering research partnerships program specifically designed to encourage basic, applied and translational bioengineering research that could contribute significantly to better human health.

One of the aims of the research is to test the hypothesis that genetic variability among individuals is a major determinant in the toxic effects of chemical hazards.

“We are extremely pleased to receive this award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences,” Rusyn said. “Our interdisciplinary team is determined to advance the science and practice of environmental health research by building bridges between disciplines.”

“This work is valuable,” Rusyn said, “as it will contribute to prevention of human disease by improving our ability to extrapolate and translate findings from chemical testing to human populations and by informing regulatory decisions that limit exposures to disease-associated environmental agents.”

The research team will develop a mouse liver tissue bioreactor that can screen chemicals; build, test and validate computational models that use chemical and biological descriptors of molecular structures and take into account genetic diversity; and validate an in vivo / in vitro toxicity screening paradigm for a class of chemicals called allylbenzene derivatives.

Other members of the research team include Alex Tropsha, PhD (UNC School of Pharmacy), David Threadgill, PhD (UNC School of Medicine), and Linda Griffith, PhD (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

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School of Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, director of communications, (919) 966-7467 or