What Is That We're Breathing?
Air is filled with pollutants that humans should not be inhaling. A new, $1 million research project at Keene State will help identify these pollutants and investigate their effect on human lungs.
The Keene State researchers are among a team of New Hampshire scientists to have been awarded a $12 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Health to establish a research center on lung diseases in New Hampshire. The grant will support research at Keene State, Dartmouth College, and Dartmouth Medical School, in collaboration with the N.H. Department of Environmental Services and Department of Health and Human Services.
Keene State has been awarded $1 million of the grant, which is funded through the NHI's Centers of Biological Research Excellence (COBRE) program.
The Keene State project is one of five under the grant to investigate different elements of lung disease in the Northeast, says Melinda Treadwell, assistant professor of technology, design and safety, and a toxicologist by training. According to Melinda, who is heading up the project, Keene State students and faculty will study the environmental factors that contribute to lung diseases including lung cancer, which accounts for over 30 percent of all cancer deaths in New Hampshire.
The research team will first identify and characterize the metallic components of pollutants that may be present in occupational and environmental settings across the northeast, says Melinda. Then, the researchers will investigate the potential early responses of human lungs to these pollutants, using cell culture techniques. To enable the researchers to study the effects of air pollutants on human lungs, lung cells will be grown in a new lab in Butterfield Hall. The cells will then be exposed to the metal particles present in different types of pollution, with the response of the cells to the exposures measured.
The Keene State team will also collaborate with researchers at Dartmouth to investigate how human lung proteins may change following exposures to the substances. The researchers also hope to determine whether geographical location has any bearing on the different lung diseases that people in the region suffer from.
"In the end, we hope to answer two main questions," explains Melinda. "Do we understand which metals are present in air pollution in the northeast, and do these metals have differing effects on exposed individuals, depending on where they live?"
The Keene State research team will comprise students and faculty from several departments, says Melinda. "One exciting aspect of this project is that it provides an experiential learning opportunity for our students," she explains. This work will take the form of senior research projects during term time and internships in the summer. Students from several departments, including technology, design and safety, environmental science, and geography, are likely to collaborate on the project. "The involvement of safety studies students in this type of research project will make them better professionals," says Melinda.
The COBRE project follows on from research Melinda and several safety studies students conducted for the Environmental Protection Agency evaluating the effects of diesel exhaust fumes on workers last year. The results of that project were presented to the EPA in December.