It's clear that there is tremendous inter-individual variability in the response to environmental challenges, yet we simply do not understand why certain people develop disease when exposed to environmental agents and others remain healthy. Yet, there is emerging consensus that many of the complex (and prevalent) diseases that humans develop occur as a result of multiple biologically unique gene-gene and gene-environment interactions. The recent advances in human and molecular genetics have provided an unparalleled opportunity to understand how genes and genetic changes interact with environmental stimuli to either preserve health or cause disease.
Gene expression profiling - measuring the activity of hundreds or thousands of genes at once - is a powerful tool for analyzing genomic responses to environmental agents in humans. In addition, model organisms, including mice, worms and zebrafish, provide opportunities for investigating the role of specific types of environmental stressors (infectious agents or pollutants, for example) in eliciting pathogenic responses. Genomic studies in both animals and humans should allow Duke investigators to gain valuable insight into our responses to environmental exposures and help facilitate new treatment approaches.
Meet the Enviro-Genomics Research Team
John P. Chute, MD - Cellular Therapy
John Chute received his MD from Georgetown University School of Medicine (Washington, DC) in 1990. He completed his residency in Internal Medicine at the National Naval Medical Center (Maryland) in 1993. Dr. Chute went on to complete a fellowship in Hematology/Oncology at the National Naval Medical Center/National Cancer Institute (Maryland) in 1996. John Chute's clinical research interests involve hematology, oncology, stem-cell transplantation.
Holly Dressman, PhD - Dir. IGSP Microarray Facility
Holly K. Dressman, PhD is the Director of the Duke Microarray Core Facility, a shared resource of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center and a component of the IGSP's research in genomic medicine. She received her PhD in Genetics from Pennsylvania State University in 1994. In 2001 Dr. Dressman became the Director of the Microarray Core Facility.
Aimee Zaas, MD, MHS - Microbial Pathogenesis
Aimee Zaas received a B.S. in Psychology magna cum laude from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1994. She then received an M.D. from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in 1998. She completed her internal medicine residency training at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she also served as an Assistant Chief of Service (Chief Resident).
Genomic signatures predictive of environmental exposures:
The goal of these studies (funded by RadCCORE and DOE) is to explore the hypothesis that the blood or RNA containing blood components (e.g., monocytes) are physiologic 'biosensors' that integrate signals relevant to environmental exposures. IGSP investigators (Drs. John Chute and Holly Dressman) have developed data showing a correlation between blood expression profiles and levels of exposure to ionizing radiation both in a mouse model as well as in patients who have received radiation in the course of bone marrow transplantation.
Extending these observations, Drs. Aimee Zaas and John Hollingsworth are examining murine models exposed to ozone and LPS using pilot funds from the Nicholas School of the Environment's Environmental Health Sciences Research Center. In addition to developing peripheral blood gene expression signatures of environmental exposures, a goal of this research is to develop a “bank” of sample specimens for use in comparison against other types of exposures (infectious, pharmacologic).