PROTECT team members from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico attended the NIEHS FEST  held from December 5th through 8th, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. The FEST was hosted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to commemorate the institute’s 50th year of working “to reduce the burden of human illness and disability by understanding how the environment influences the development and progression of human disease.” The goal of NIEHS FEST was to provide a platform for researchers, trainees, young investigators, community partners, and stakeholders to discuss past accomplishments and future endeavors of those working in the field of environmental health science.

One of the highlights of PROTECT’s participation at the FEST included the Superfund Research Program (SRP) Annual Grantee Meeting held on the first day of the conference for all SRP researchers and administrator attendees. Several PROTECT members took leading roles in the day’s events, including Dr. Phil Brown, who served as a panel moderator, and Marvic Carmona De Jesus, a KC Donnelly Externship winner who described his work on a project  on Passive Sampler Devices for Deployment and Sampling of Spring Water in the Northern Karst Aquifer of Puerto Rico. Marvic works under the guidance of Ingrid Padilla and spent his externship at the Oregon State University (OSU) SRP Center, under the guidance of Kim Anderson, Ph.D. The externship provided him the opportunity to learn skills related to using passive sampling devices to detect, monitor, and quantify these contaminants in water.

PROTECT Trainee Marvic Carmona De Jesus describing his externship experience

In addition, the SRP Meeting featured a poster session for graduate students to present on their research. PROTECT trainees presented their posters during this event. Congratulations to Elana Elkin of Project 2 who won first place in the health sciences category for the Annual SRP Poster Competition.  Elkin’s poster was titled “Effects of the Trichloroethylene Metabolite S-(1,2-Dichlorovinyl)-L-Cysteine on Mitochondrial Function in Human Cytotrophoblasts” and was selected out of dozens of student submissions.

The second day of the FEST featured a “Sensors and Technologies Fair” with aims of providing NIEHS funded sensor and technologies developers with an opportunity to display their work and meet other innovative scientists in their field. Project 5 Researcher Ljiljana Rajic led an exhibition at this fair on “PROTECT’s Electrochemical Reactor for Remediation of Contaminated Groundwater.” Rajic displayed PROTECT’s novel, sustainable, solar-powered and environmentally-friendly electrochemical reactor for the remediation of contaminated groundwater. 

Also held on the second day of the FEST was a panel called “Diversity and the NIEHS—Opportunities and Challenges” featuring Akram Alshawabkeh, PROTECT Co-Director. He spoke specifically on his experience with the Northeastern University ROUTES mentoring program, which was established to diversify the field of environmental health research by recruiting exceptional science, engineering and public health undergraduates from groups traditionally underrepresented in environmental health research. Also serving on the panel were Christopher Bradfield of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Christie Drew of the NIEHS Program Analysis Branch, Kelly Harris of the Food and Drug Administration, and Ericka Reid of the NIEHS Office of Science Education & Diversity.

Later in the week, Project 1 Leader John Meeker spoke on The Children’s Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR), an NIEHS led infrastructure which aims “to provide access to analytical capabilities to support the inclusion and expansion of environmental exposures in NIH funded research on children’s health and development.” The resource includes “a range of laboratory capabilities in targeted biomonitoring analysis, untargeted metabolomics, and biological response assessment as well as 66 data analysis and sharing.” Meeker’s presentation was titled “How to Make Use of CHEAR Laboratory Analyses,” and was a part of a larger session of speakers on the topic.

Overall, 43 team members associated with PROTECT and CRECE attended the FEST. The teams are thankful for being given the opportunity to come together for a week of learning and idea-sharing in such a driven and energized community.

The PROTECT and CRECE teams gathered on Tuesday, December 6th after a long day at the fest for a dinner at Dos Perros restaurant in Durham, NC