Four New Research Centers to Explore Link Between Oceans and Human Health
Arlington, VA and Research Triangle Park, NC The
National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), one of the National Institutes
of Health, have announced funding for four joint Centers for Oceans
and Human Health (COHH). The centers will be located at the University
of Washington, the University of Hawaii, the Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution in Massachusetts, and the University of Miami.
The federal agencies expect to invest a combined total of $5 million
annually for the next five years to support the four centers.
The centers will bring together experts in biomedical and oceanographic
sciences for the first time to study the effects of harmful algal
blooms, marine pathogens, and the oceans' vast potential for drug
discovery. The combined expertise of the participants will accelerate
the pace of scientific discovery, ranging from the development of
new sensors for early warning systems to enhanced progress in finding
novel compounds with pharmaceutical potential.
"The formation of this funding partnership demonstrates that
NSF and NIEHS are addressing the current and future needs of a growing
human population, one that is increasingly dependent upon the ocean's
resources," said Arden Bement, acting director of NSF. "It
also demonstrates NSF's commitment to bridging major interdisciplinary
gaps in science, and among different parts of the research community."
Added Margaret Leinen, NSF assistant director for geosciences, "The
new centers are a wonderful example of how basic research can focus
on a topic of great practical significance. We look forward to the
discoveries that will come from this program, and to the important
new applications that will follow."
This effort, supported by the respective strengths of NSF and NIEHS
in physical and biological sciences, said Leinen, highlights the
capacity of federal research agencies to work together in a collaborative
fashion and to leverage resources to support the highest quality
"The NIEHS and the National Science Foundation support complementary
sets of expertise that can be brought together in the study of oceans
and human health," said Kenneth Olden, director of the NIEHS.
"These federal agencies have joined forces in order to harmonize
their corresponding strengths."
"Oceans have become conduits for a number of environmental
threats to human health," said Olden. "At the same time,
oceans harbour a diverse array of organisms that show great promise
for providing new drugs to combat cancer and fight infectious diseases.
In order to guard against health threats, and to take advantage
of medicinal benefits that oceans might provide, the impact of oceans
on human health must be more fully explored."
The four centers, their directors, and programs are:
- The center at the University of Washington, directed by Elaine
Faustman, will study toxic algae and how toxic domoic acid produced
by algae accumulates in Puget Sound shellfish. Researchers will
explore the ways in which this toxin affects human health through
the consumption of contaminated seafood, especially in sensitive
populations such as children.
- The center at the University of Hawaii, directed by Ed Laws,
will study ciguatoxin-producing organisms and develop improved methods
for detecting these toxins in fish and humans. Researchers will
also conduct studies of microbial pathogens in tropical coastal
waters to learn more about their sources, survival and ecology.
A pharmaceutical initiative will focus on extracts from tropical
microorganisms, and their potential application in the treatment
of cancer and infectious diseases.
- The center at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, directed
by John Stegeman, will study populations of the toxic plankton
Alexandrium in the Gulf of Maine and the relationship of
its various genotypes to its toxicity, as well as the hydrodynamic
and biological controls on these populations and how they affect
shellfish toxicity. The center will also study human pathogens
in Mt. Hope Bay.
- The center at the University of Miami, directed by Lora Fleming,
will study hazardous algal blooms in subtropical ecosystems and
the development of probes to identify new species and toxins. The
genomics of algae will be studied to see if different genotypes
are more successful during algal blooms. The center will also investigate
microbes in coastal waters and their effects on human health in
waters heavily used for recreational purposes.
NSF Program Contact: Don Rice, firstname.lastname@example.org,
NIEHS Program Contact: Fred Tyson, email@example.com,