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Pacific Northwest Center For Human Health And Ocean Studies


<p>The Pacific Northwest Center for Human Health and Ocean Studies at the University of Washington was created in response to the critical need to understand links between ocean processes and human health. The focus of the Center is on mechanisms that underlie development of toxic blooms of the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia and the public health consequences of toxic events. The Center, which has leveraged >$12 million, brings together researchers from 5 different departments within the University of Washington with expertise in fisheries and biological, chemical and physical oceanography (ocean science) to work with researchers with expertise in molecular and cellular mechanisms of toxicity, neuro-developmental biology, behavior and risk assessment (public health science) and collaborate directly with researchers from 6 different agencies and institutes. Research is coordinated across this multi-disciplinary group through the concept of a risk chain consisting of 5 steps that begin with physical/chemical oceanography and culminate in a mechanistic understanding of the impact of toxin on specific receptors in the brains of humans. Center research began in early 2003 and since then Center researchers have identified circulation-based explanations for the sporadic nature of toxic blooms along the WA coast; molecular approaches to quickly distinguish between different species of Pseudo-nitzschia within whole seawater samples and thus link environmental conditions and species distributions; genomic features that define Pseudo-nitzschia; biosensors that can rapidly determine toxin levels within shellfish tissues; differences in shellfish consumption of toxic Pseudo-nitzschia; behavioral and cultural practices that serve as important risk factors for exposure of humans to toxin-contaminated seafood; and genetic factors in mammals that influence toxic oxidative stress responses following exposure to domoic acid. With funding from this Accomplishment-Based Renewal, new research at the Center will build upon the risk-chain framework that has proven so successful thus far, further synthesizing these research efforts into an integrative and dynamic framework by explicitly linking different steps in the chain. Several research approaches will be used to make additional linkages across disciplines: comparative genomics, which by definition relies on comparisons of different types of organisms; sensing, which allows linkages between environmental conditions and organism responses; and modeling, which integrates across all research areas and continues our current focus. Specific examples of future research areas include analysis of gene and protein expression profiles of field populations of Pseudo-nitzschia; improvement of the current domoic acid biosensor through development of readily accessible antibodies that will enhance instrument flexibility; development of human neuronal stem cells as a model system for mechanistic and gene-environment studies of toxicity; integration of Pseudonitzschia species distributions into circulation models of Puget Sound with the goal of identifying defining features of the rare toxic events within Puget Sound; and, incorporation of age related susceptibility factors into current risk assessment models. Focusing efforts on these approaches will provide an iterative means of integrating new knowledge into the risk chain framework and will facilitate Center research on policy and monitoring practices. Broader Impacts: Center researchers will continue to foster the development of a next-generation of oceans and human health researchers by supervising nearly 50 early-career scientists consisting of post-doctoral researchers, graduate students, undergraduates (10 with REU fellowships), and research scientists/staff. The Center will play a key role in helping define the newly emerging discipline of oceans and human health by conveying the importance of their findings through scientific venues and different types of outreach including K-12 interactions, advice for monitoring agencies, and interactions with potentially at-risk groups (Asian and Pacific Islanders and Tribal Nations) that consume high levels of seafood. Outreach and education have been defining features of the Center and will continue to be so into the future. The goal here is to continue to integrate across ocean and human health research to advance this new discipline by conveying the important ramifications of this emerging field to new scientists, the general public, and concerned interest groups (risk chain step 6).</p>

Faustman, Elaine M; Armbrust, Virginia E
University of Washington
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