News Release

Friday, September 1, 2006

NIEHS Awards $3.6 Million to Outstanding New Environmental Scientists

Today, grants for $3.6 million will be awarded to exceptionally talented and creative new scientists who are pursuing careers in environmental health research, according to David A. Schwartz, M.D., director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. Known collectively as the Outstanding New Environmental Scientist (ONES) Award, the initial grants will support eight early career scientists over a five-year period.

“The ONES Program is designed to provide a strong foundation for outstanding scientists who are in the early, formative stages of their careers,” said Schwartz. “These grants will assist the scientists in launching innovative research programs that focus on human disease and the influence of the environment.”

The program is a key element of the NIEHS 2006 Strategic Plan, a five-year blueprint for identifying and funding new research initiatives that will address the diseases and environmental exposures that are likely to have the greatest impact on human health. One of the primary goals of the plan is the recruitment and training of promising young scientists who are prepared to make long-term commitments to environmental health research.

Research supported by the ONES grants will cover a broad range of environmental exposures along with the biological responses they elicit. Each of the awardees will focus on a specific human disease or condition as it relates to a specific environmental exposure. The ultimate goal of the research is to link the effects of these exposures to the cause, moderation or prevention of environmentally-related diseases.

The following is a list of the 2006 ONES Program awardees:

  • Donna D. Zhang, Ph.D., University of Arizona, will study the mechanism by which cells protect themselves from the toxic effects of arsenic, a highly poisonous metal that can cause DNA damage and lead to an increased risk for certain cancers.
  • Patricia Lynn Opresko, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, will explore the effects of environmental agents on telomeres, small segments of DNA located at the ends of chromosomes, which help control aging and death of cells.
  • Thomas J. Begley, Ph.D., State University of New York at Albany, will examine the way in which damage to DNA from environmental exposures can trigger the production of certain proteins that help protect the cell from toxic agents.
  • Sven-Eric Jordt, Ph.D., Yale University, will study the way in which certain airborne pollutants interact with sensory nerve cells in order to produce eye, nose and throat irritation.
  • Michael Borchers, Ph.D., University of Cincinnati, will examine the relationship between exposure to airborne chemicals from vehicle exhaust and industrial sources, and increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Michelle L. Bell, Ph.D., Yale University, will study the relationship between outdoor concentrations of ozone, a form of oxygen that is a primary component of urban smog, and the incidence of respiratory disease and death in exposed populations.
  • Stephania A. Cormier, Ph.D., Louisiana State University, will conduct research on fine particle air pollution — microscopic particles of dust and soot less than 2.5 microns in diameter — to determine whether exposure to these tiny particles can produce changes in immune system function that could result in an increased risk for developing asthma.
  • Gokhan M. Mutlu, M.D., Northwestern University, will study the effects of fine particle exposure on blood flow and heart disease risk.

“These scientists will focus on diseases for which there seems to be a strong environmental component, as well as exposures that hold the most promise for clarifying their underlying causes,” said Schwartz. “This knowledge will improve our ability to identify important environmental hazards and improve the clinical outcome of environmentally related diseases.”

For more information about the NIEHS Strategic Plan, please visit:

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), a component of the National Institutes of Health, supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health. For more information on environmental health topics, please visit our website at

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