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Career Development Program: 2022-2023 Center Scientists

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 Rebeka (Bek) Petroff, PhD

Rebeka (Bek) Petroff, PhD

Rebekah Lee Petroff (Bek) serves as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Drs. Jackie Goodrich and Dana Dolinoy, having received her PhD in 2022 from the University of Washington, WA, USA. Her research uses data-intensive methods to understand the neurological and epigenetic effects of early life exposures to common environmental contaminants in both animal models and epidemiological cohorts. As an M-LEEaD Center Scientist, her research will focus on two key translational topics: the developmental epigenetic effects of domoic acid, and the translational, cross-species, environmental epigenetic effects from developmental toxicant exposure.

Soundara Viveka Thangaraj, PhD

Soundara Viveka Thangaraj, PhD

Soundara Viveka Thangaraj (Viveka) is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Vasantha Padmanabhan in the Department of Pediatric-Endocrinology, having received her PhD in 2021 from the Cancer Institute, University of Madras, India. Her research centers around the developmental programming effects of pre-natal exposure to environmental chemicals, on long-term metabolic health of the offspring. As an M-LEEaD Center Scientist she will be using state of the art omic approaches to investigate the biosolid-exposure induced alterations in the maternal metabolome that could contribute to phenotypic outcomes in the offspring.

Career Development Program: 2020-2021 Center Scientists

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Rachel S. Bergmans, PhD, MPH

Rachel S. Bergmans, PhD, MPH

Dr. Bergmans is investigating environmental contributions to suicide-related behavior, including atmospheric aeroallergens, and whether susceptibility varies by sociodemographic status. Through rotations with the M-LEEaD Cores, Dr. Bergmans will receive training in testing biological pathways by which environmental exposures influence suicide-related behavior. Additionally, M-LEEaD training in community engaged research will increase the capacity of Dr. Bergmans’ work to inform policies and practices aimed at reducing the burden of suicide-related behavior in vulnerable communities. Dr. Bergmans is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, having received her PhD in 2017 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her scientific contributions highlight the biological and behavioral processes linking environment-related factors with mental health. This Center Scientist Award is an exciting opportunity for Dr. Bergmans to receive mentored training in environmental health that will facilitate her transition to research independence.

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Simone Charles, PhD, MS

Simone Charles, PhD, MS

Dr. Charles will investigate the efficacy of a youth-informed citizen science curriculum intended to increase environmental health literacy, promote improved health outcomes, increase youth empowerment, and promote resiliency for change for themselves and their communities. The curriculum will integrate gene-environment, epigenetics, and bioinformatics into community-based citizen science research with youth in underserved communities and how these youth can utilize these areas to inform community action around environmental health disparities. Her practice-based research will lay the groundwork that will inform a place-based, culturally appropriate, strategy for youth to engage in advancing environmental health, develop an effective environmental health literacy program, and propose policy suggestions and decision-making in response to environmental justice. It will also provide opportunities to empower youth to take action to educate themselves, their peers and their community on ways to reduce or eliminate risk factors within their control, while actively working to change modifiable environmental risk factors. Dr. Charles is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health, Environmental Health Sciences Department. She received her PhD in Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology; postdoctoral fellowship in Environmental Health Sciences. The Center Scientist award will enable her to interact with a multidisciplinary team and gain expertise in complementary research areas through the rotations in the MLEEaD Cores. It would provide dedicated time for her to develop her environmental health practice portfolio and build new partnerships for expanding her work.

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Career Development Program: Early Stage Faculty Success

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Justin Colacino, PhD

Justin Colacino, PhD

Justin Colacino, PhD, was appointed Research Assistant Professor in UM-EHS in fall 2014. He is working on cancer stem cells with Max Wicha, the inaugural (now former) director of the UM Comprehensive Cancer Center and a pioneer in cancer stem cell biology, exploring environmental variables. Omenn and Wicha have formed an M-LEEaD mentoring team for Colacino. Colacino applied for the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award (not funded) and has several NIEHS R01 grants submitted investigating susceptibility of normal breast stem cells to environmental carcinogens.

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Dana Dolinoy, PhD

Dana Dolinoy, PhD

Dana Dolinoy, PhD, Associate Chair, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Associate Professor UM-EHS, was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure on September 1, 2014. While an assistant professor, Dolinoy received formal mentoring from Peter Mancuso, her senior mentor in the UM-EHS. They met regularly to discuss career plans, strategies for success, opportunities, and any other topic of interest. Dolinoy was PI or Co-PI of several M-LEEaD pilot grants that provided support for successful grant applications. She received an NIEHS ONES R01 in 2009 and will submit its competing renewal in summer 2015. She was Project 1 PI in the NIEHS/EPA-funded P20 UM Children’s Environmental Health Center (2010-2014) and is Project 3 PI and Project 2 Co-I in the subsequent NIEHS/EPA-funded UM Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center (P01 ES022844). She is MPI (with M-LEEaD member Lozoff) of a newly funded grant (1R21ES025456-01) and expects NIEHS R13 funding for a Gordon Conference on mechanisms of toxicity. She has built a significant research program on perinatal and lifestage exposures to bisphenol A, mercury, lead, and phthalates utilizing mouse models and human samples.

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Steven Huang, MD

Steven Huang, MD

Steven Huang, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, Medical School, Pulmonary/Critical Care, is PI of a M-LEEaD pilot project for a planned R01 grant submission. He has received guidance in experimental design and analysis from consultations with the M-LEEaD Integrated Health Sciences Core (Harlow) and the Omics and Bioinformatics Core (Sartor).

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Toby Lewis, MD, MPH

Toby Lewis, MD, MPH

Toby Lewis, Associate Professor in Pediatrics & Communicable Diseases and UM-EHS, is completing her first NIH grant (R01ES016769-05) and, with critical support from M-LEEaD cores, obtained new preliminary data that led to the successful resubmission for her second NIH grant (R21Al114220-01A1).

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Masako Morishita, PhD

Masako Morishita, PhD, Research Assistant Professor in UM-EHS, is an air pollution scientist. She is PI of her first NIH grant (1R01NR014484-01A1 for an air quality intervention study with M-LEEaD members Adar and Brook as collaborators. She is a core scientist in the M-LEEaD Exposure Assessment Core, providing analytical and study design services for assessment of exposure to metals and elements.

Richard Neitzel, PhD

Richard Neitzel, PhD

Richard Neitzel, Associate Professor in UM-EHS, leads an EPA study and is PI of a foundation grant and subcontract to investigate noise interactions with dust and other chemical exposures in the workplace.

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Laura Rozek, PhD

Laura Rozek, PhD

Laura Rozek, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of EHS, was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in UM-EHS and became Associate Director, SPH Office of Global Public Health, in September 2014. While assistant professor, Rozek received formal mentoring from Thomas Robins, with regular meetings to discuss strategies for success, opportunities, and any other topic of interest. She was a collaborator on several M-LEEaD pilot projects that supported publications and grant applications. She is PI of grant 5R03CA167700-03 and MPI of grant 5R01CA158286-03 (with Sartor). Rozek led a project in the UM NCI-funded Head & Neck Cancer SPORE (completed). Her focus is interactions of genomic/epigenomic, environmental, and dietary factors in carcinogenesis in human populations. She has a major program on metals exposures in Thailand, involving several UM and many Thai students.

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Emily Somers, PhD, ScM

Emily Somers, PhD, ScM

Emily Somers, PhD, Associate Professor in Internal Medicine/Rheumatology and Obstetrics & Gynecology, has an NIEHS-funded K01 (ES019909-04) on genetic/epigenetic and environment interactions in systemic lupus erythematosus and is PI on the Michigan Lupus Epidemiology and Surveillance Program Longitudinal Cohort (5U01DP003250-02), a study with a strong environmental component.

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Maureen Sartor, PhD

Maureen Sartor, PhD

Maureen Sartor, PhD, was appointed Research Assistant Professor in Bioinformatics and in Biostatistics in 2009. She was promoted to Assistant Professor of Computational Medicine & Bioinformatics (tenure track) in 2012 and becomes Associate Professor with tenure effective July 2015. Sartor is MPI on grant 5R01CA158286-03, Co-I on an NIEHS ONES Grant with Dolinoy (5R01ES017524-05), and Co-I of the Data Management Core of the UM Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center (P01ES022844). Sartor has collaborated with M-LEEaD members Omenn, Richardson, Yung, Dolinoy, Faulk, and Loch-Caruso on M-LEEaD preliminary pilot projects and publications.

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Career Development Program: 2019-2020 Center Scientists

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Sean Harris, PhD

Sean Harris, PhD

Dr. Harris will be studying circulating molecular markers of placental injury in response to common environmental toxicant exposure. As a Center Scientist, Dr. Harris is excited to gain important training in bioinformatics which will be critical to completing the goals of his project. In addition, Dr. Harris is excited to gain more experience in science communication and community outreach. Dr. Harris received his PhD in environmental toxicology from the University of Washington in 2015. His dissertation research focused on male reproductive toxicology and included analysis of global gene expression changes in testis cells as well as pro-inflammatory cytokines and hormone responses. Since joining Prof. Loch-Caruso’s lab, Dr. Harris has continued to build on his background in reproductive biology while transitioning into female reproductive toxicology, with a focus on toxicant impacts in the placenta.

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Kai Wang, PhD

Kai Wang, PhD

As a Center Scientist, Dr. Wang will investigate how low dose perinatal lead exposure affects offspring’s brain developing and aging processes in mouse model. By using the Assay for Transposase-Accessible Chromatin using sequencing (ATAC-seq) data and single cell RNA sequencing data from an ongoing NIEHS funded U01 project, “Exposure Timing, Tissue and Cell Specific Epigenomics and Lifecourse Phenotypes”, the results of his study will provide a better understanding of how lead exposure affects the gene expression and cellular diversity changes of mouse hippocampus in developing and aging processes. Dr. Wang received his PhD in 2018 from the Miami University, Oxford. After many years of studies in bioinformatics, he has obtained a variety of expertise in scientific programming and data analysis. Now as the bioinformatician of the Omics and Bioinformatics Core at the M-LEEaD center, this Center Scientist Award is an exciting opportunity for him to gain professional expertise in environmental health research and develop valuable connections for future collaborations.

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Career Development Program: 2018-2019 Center Scientists

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Carina Gronlund, PhD

Carina Gronlund, PhD

As a Center Scientist, Carina will study housing vulnerabilities to cold temperatures and their correlation with heat vulnerabilities, complementing and leveraging existing efforts. With NIEHS K99 funding, she is currently constructing a “housing-health database” of linked mortality records, Medicare claims, weather, EPA walkability, and tax and parcel records in 15 counties in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania for 2006-2013. Carina received her BA in Biology from the University of Chicago, with a specialization in Ecology and Evolution. Subsequently, worked as a research assistant in the Clinical Trials Office at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, MI before pursing a Masters in Public Health at the University of Michigan. Carina completed her MPH in 2008 and then completed her PhD in 2013 in the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, where she was a National Institute on Aging Public Health and Aging trainee.

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Laurie Svoboda, PhD

Laurie Svoboda, PhD

As a Center Scientist, Laurie is excited for the opportunity to interact with the multidisciplinary M-LEEaD team to gain breadth of expertise in environmental health as well as establish valuable networks for future collaborations. She earned a PhD in toxicology in the University of Michigan School of Public Health, where her research was focused on understanding the molecular underpinnings of atrial fibrillation (AF), and the mechanistic contribution of cigarette smoke exposure and oxidative stress to this condition. It was during this time that she became interested in the field of epigenetics, and the contribution of developmental epigenetic reprogramming to the long-term risk of disease. In order to gain expertise in the fundamentals of developmental reprogramming and epigenetics, Laurie pursued a postdoctoral fellowship in pediatric oncology. There, she made several important contributions to the understanding of the biologic mechanisms underlying Ewing sarcoma, a pediatric tumor that is driven by hijacking of normal epigenetic regulation of development. Laurie discovered roles for developmental HOX genes, as well as the menin-MLL1 epigenetic complex in promoting tumor growth. She further uncovered an unexpected connection between menin and cancer metabolism. These experiences provided her with a unique skill set and perspective that she is excited to bring back to the Department of Environmental Health Sciences.

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Career Development Program: 2017-2018 Center Scientists

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Lada Koneva, PhD

During her year as M-LEEaD Center Scientist, Dr. Lada Koneva had the opportunity to attend the Annual Meeting Society of Toxicology (SOT) in San Antonio, Texas on March 11-15, 2018 where she presented the results of the M-LEEaD Funded Pilot Project “Transcriptomic and epigenomic effects of cadmium exposure during normal breast stem cell differentiation” alongside Dr. Justin Colacino. At the SOT conference Dr. Koneva enrolled in the Continuing Education Program and attended the course: “NGS Based Technologies Enable Biomarker Development and Discovery in Toxicology”. Methods presented in the course were applicable to strategies used in the M-LEEaD Omics and Bioinformatics Core for generating comprehensive toxicologically-relevant information on molecular changes in cells and tissue including talks by Julia Cui from University of Washington “Long noncoding RNAs: a novel paradigm in toxicology” and by Brian Chorley from US Environmental Protection Agency “Next-Generation sequencing applications for microRNA biomarker discovery in toxicological studies” among many others. Dr. Koneva looks forward to utilizing these new techniques to compliment her current research.

Deborah Watkins, PhD

Deborah Watkins, PhD

In her year as M-LEEaD Center Scientist, Dr. Deborah Watkins worked to expand her scientific knowledge in neurodevelopment and neuropsychological assessment methods in order to identify effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals on the developing central nervous system. Dr. Watkins completed a biopsychology course (PSYCH 430) on brain development that emphasizes the role of the environment, and worked with neuropsychologists to incorporate assessment methods into her research. This work has been presented at the annual International Society for Environmental Epidemiology conference and two manuscripts are currently in preparation. Dr. Watkins has also met with researchers from the M-LEEaD Omics and Bioinformatics Core to explore and learn new methods for integrating metabolomics analysis into her work, and contributed to a project evaluating relationships between in utero phthalate exposure and metabolomics biomarkers during peripuberty. Going forward, Dr. Watkins will continue work in this area, as well as continue to explore methods for addressing exposure to chemical mixtures during sensitive periods of development.

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