Serrine Lau
Serrine Lau

Southwest Center Gets $8.3M to Study Effects of Environment on Health

The funding will allow the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center to continue to build and maintain research facilities used by researchers across the UA, the state of Arizona and nationally.
July 24, 2012

The effects of arsenic, air particulates, sunlight and other environmental factors affecting humans are the focus of multiple projects at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, or SWEHSC.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, or NIEHS, recently notified the UA that the SWEHSC, funded since 1994, will receive an additional $8.3 million for the next five years, through March 2017.

Competition for the NIEHS Center of Excellence funding is very strong, with nine centers competing nationally in 2012. Headquartered in the UA College of Pharmacy, the SWEHSC tied with one other center for the best score in this particular annual NIEHS review cycle.

“This is the best score the SWEHSC has received in our 18-year history,” said Serrine Lau, center director and professor at the UA College of Pharmacy. “The center scored within the ‘exceptional’ category.”

“Receiving this funding for five more years permits us to continue our studies on the mechanisms underlying human diseases that are influenced by environmental exposure. Our long-term goal is to improve the lives of the people of Arizona and the Southwest region of the U.S.”

Leslie Tolbert, UA senior vice president for research, gives high praise for the center: “We are very pleased to express our strong support for the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center. This program fits squarely with the broader goals of education and research at the University of Arizona and the trans-disciplinary spirit that permeates its culture.”

The SWEHSC includes 41 faculty members: 39 are from 15 different UA departments or academic units, one is from Arizona State University and one is from Carl Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix. UA members are from the colleges of public health, medicine, agriculture and life sciences and engineering and from the UA BIO5 Institute. One-third of the members are from the UA College of Pharmacy.

Center members are researching many aspects of how human health is affected by the environment. For example, projects are under way to study the effects of:

  • exposure to arsenic released by mining, which can cause bladder and other cancers;
  • effect of air particulates on pulmonary diseases, such as COPD and asthma;
  • skin photodamage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays;
  • oxidative stress and metabolic syndromes; and
  • alterations in chemical clearance in non-alcoholic liver disease.

The center also is expanding its research emphasis. “We are recruiting public health experts to help increase our understanding of environmental issues associated with at-risk populations residing in arid environments,” Lau said.

The NIEHS funding will allow the center to continue to build and maintain research facilities used by researchers across the UA, the state of Arizona and nationally. The center oversees four facility cores, offering state-of-the-art instrumentation and expertise in cellular imaging, genomics, proteomics and integrative health sciences.

The center provides seed money for pilot research projects aimed at exploring new areas of environmental health research, enabling researchers to acquire the essential preliminary data necessary to pursue long-term extramural funding. It provides career training for a new generation of environmental health scientists and conducts extensive community outreach and education services within Arizona and other Southwest communities.

NIEHS is a section of the National Institutes of Health. Funding for the UA center is provided through Grant Number P30 ES006694.

The SWEHSC is a collaborative interdisciplinary research center actively investigating the effects of environmental agents on human health. The center also provides community outreach and education related to how exposures to environmental agents (and other stresses) contribute to human disease.