Yale now has two ONES, or Outstanding New Environmental Scientists, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The titles, and the NIEHS funding, went to pharmacology professor Sven-Eric Jordt and to forestry and environmental studies professor Michelle Bell. The primary goal of the awards is to provide a strong foundation for outstanding scientists who are in the early formative stages of their careers, NIEHS spokesman John Peterson said, and he said the institute expects great things from Jordt and Bell.
“These grants will assist the scientists in launching programs that will focus human disease and its relationship to environmental factors,” Peterson said.
The NIEHS hopes the funding will not only support the Yale researchers, but yield a course for other researchers to follow, Peterson said.
“Primarily, these scientists are focusing on diseases for which there seems to be a strong environmental component,” he said. “They are also focusing on exposures, like fine particles, that hold the most promise for clarifying their underlying causes.”
Jordt said he plans to study the neuron intensity receptors found in the respiratory tract, eyes and skin that are activated by environmental pollutants.
“A big part of the grant is looking at the genetics of these responses and the sensitivity by comparing control and knockout mice,” Jordt said. “We compare their response to their irritants on the skin, respiratory system and their eyes, and we also look at long-term changes and inflammation and other smoke-induced changes.”
If the researchers are successful, he said, they could identify certain irritants that affect these sensors and look at the resulting health effects, ranging from asthma to skin and airway hypersensitivity.
Ideally, Jordt theorizes that they could develop counter-measures to these environmental chemical irritants.
“We are thinking about small molecules, biochemical compounds that could reduce sensitization and pain and other response to these irritant compounds,” he said.
The irritants in question, Jordt said, are found in secondhand smoke, automobile exhaust and smog.
Bell, who studies the impacts that episodes of air pollution have on human health, said she plans to study outdoor ozone concentrations and their relationship to respiratory disease and death in exposed populations.
Ozone found near ground level is a pollutant and is harmful to plant and animal tissue, while ozone high in the atmosphere filters out dangerous levels of radiation.