Research paper reveals effects of enzyme loss


Dr. Doris Kretzschmar

Dr. Doris Kretzschmar

Glial expression of Swiss-cheese (SWS), the Drosophila orthologue of Neuropathy Target Esterase, is required for neuronal ensheathment and function, by Dutta S, Rieche F, Eckl N, Duch C, and Kretzschmar D.

That’s the title of a paper, recently published, that describes work originating from the laboratory of Doris Kretzschmar. In this work, Dr. Kretzschmar and postdoctoral fellow Sudeshna Dutta created a genetic mutation in a fruit fly enzyme that is analogous to neuropathy target esterase (NTE), an enzyme posessed by humans.

For years it has been known that certain chemicals, called organophosphates (OPs), inhibit the function of NTE, and that NTE inhibition might be the link to a disease of motor nerves caused by OPs. OPs are used as insecticides and have a variety of other uses in industry. During alcohol prohibition, an OP contaminant in a bootleg product known as Ginger Jake caused toxic injuries marked by a peculiar gait called “Jake Leg” – this was the first clue that NTE might be important to nerve development and function.

Now, with the mutant fruit flies, we can more closely study the molecular mechanisms by which changes in this protein (called SWS, or Swiss Cheese, in flies) causes neuronal damage and movement defects. Mutations in humans cause ataxia (the loss of full control of bodily movements), spastic paraplegia (stiffness and contraction in the lower limbs), and paralysis, as well as other symptoms like blindness and mental retardation. With a better understanding of SWS (and NTE), we may someday be able to provide treatment to those with mutations of NTE or injuries from exposure to OP chemicals.

Here are some movies that show the effect of deleting the SWS gene in flies: Dutta et al movie wild type vs Dutta et al movie knockdown. It makes their movement uncoordinated and they have problems walking, whereas the wild type (WT) walks straight up their containment vials.

Study serves veterans and service members

Soliders at PHA 2Dr. Leslie Hammer, new faculty member to Occupational Health Sciences, brings her research project, SERVe – the Study for Employment Retention of Veterans – a 5-year study funded by the Department of Defense, to the Institute. SERVe aims to improve the health and well-being of veterans and their families, and to increase retention of veterans in the workplace by training supervisors to better support their employed service members. Over the last three years the SERVe team has been going full steam ahead as we have designed, refined, recruited, and collected data in what has been on a truly ground-breaking project.

Oregon is notable for being one of the only states in the union to not have an active duty base, instead relying heavily on National Guard and Reserve components. According to the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs, over 9,800 Oregon Army National Guard soldiers have been deployed overseas between 2003 and 2013*, often for a year or more. These citizen soldiers leave jobs, family and/or school behind, to fill a vital role for our country. The transition home can often be a difficult one.

Seeing a need, Dr. Hammer has adapted her Family Supportive Supervisor Behavior (FSSB) training to focus on Veteran Support in the civilian workplace. Currently the SERVe team has recruited 42 organizations in Oregon – an unprecedented number in intervention research – to pilot the training. Data are being collected from over 500 veterans in these organizations before and after the training in a randomized control trial. This rigorous evaluation goes far beyond the usual “I really liked the training/found it useful” evaluation.  The training is expected to have effects on the health and well-being of the participating Veterans, Service Members, and their families.

Data collection will be completed in summer 2016 and initial results will be available shortly thereafter. For more information, check out the SERVe website  or contact us at

Adding to the innovative research design, Dr. Cynthia Mohr and her team at Portland State University are conducting a Daily Family Study with a subgroup of veterans and their partners, where each member of the couple completes a short survey each day for about a month at two different points in time. This provides detailed information about the daily functioning of these families that just can’t be captured on a discrete survey, and also allows for additional evaluation of the training.


Submitted by Krista Brockwood, Senior Research Associate

Arsenic and cadmium air pollution found in SE and North PDX

Potentially unsafe levels of arsenic and cadmium have been detected in the air of Southeast Portland. The primary source was been localized to a glass production facility that has operated there for ~40 years. They have since terminated use of these metals in their process, so there is no current risk of continued airborne exposure from this source. A similar finding has been localized to a glass production facility in North Portland, who has also suspended use of cadmium (they don’t use arsenic).

Dr. Fred Berman addresses  questions about Arsenic and Cadmium air pollution.

Dr. Fred Berman addresses questions about Arsenic and Cadmium air pollution.

At the concentrations measured, the primary health concern is for increased risk of skin, lung and bladder cancer, and lung cancer and kidney damage, for arsenic and cadmium, respectively. This concern is heightened, because several schools and residences are located in the Southeast Portland location, and the actual magnitude and duration of exposure to these metals is still being determined. DEQ is in the process of assessing the geographical extent of contamination, which will help identify areas of potential exposure and risk.

I attended a community open house, held February 9th, organized by Oregon Public Health, Oregon DEQ, and Multnomah County, to address public concerns about the situation as it is currently understood. Many thoughtful and intelligent questions and comments were brought forth by community members, and although I felt good about my ability to address the facts, there was little I felt I could do to address the fear expressed by many. Hopefully, as the situation becomes more clearly defined, we will better understand the actual health risk that exists. Stay tuned….this issue will be ongoing for some time.

For more information, visit the Oregon Health Authority and DEQ webpages.

Of grants and fruitflies

The Krezschmar Lab including Dr. Cassar (front right).

The Krezschmar Lab team including Dr. Cassar (front right).

We congratulate Occupational Health Science’s Postdoctoral Fellow Marlene Cassar, Ph.D.,  upon her being awarded a $30,000 grant from the Collins Medical Trust. OHSU submitted a total of 15 grants for this round, and Dr. Cassar’s research project was one of four selected for funding.

Dr. Cassar supports the Kretzschmar Lab, and her funded project uses the fruitfly Drosophila to study how mutations in the Tau protein, which is a key factor in several dementias including Alzheimer’s disease, affect the function of this protein. Various fly lines will be created that express disease-associated forms of human Tau which will then be used to study how they interfere with the function and survival of the aging brain, as a means to understand the underlying pathology that leads to diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.

The Kretzschmar Lab uses Drosophila to study basic mechanisms of neurodegeneration. Currently, the research team is focusing on two projects. One is the characterization of the swiss cheese mutant, which shows progressive degeneration of the adult nervous system. The other project focuses on the function of Amyloid Precursor Proteins, which are key factors in Alzheimer’s Disease.

We appreciate the important work and diversity of our basic science researchers! Learn more about Occupational Health Sciences research directions.

New fatality report and upcoming rigging/signaling course

Oregon Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (OR-FACE)ASSE Rigging & signaling courseOR-FACE has published Fatality Investigation Report, “Crane operator killed by falling steel beam.”  A 40-year old crane operator was killed when a clamp holding the top  of the 35-foot, 5600 lb H-beam pile unexpectedly released the pile.  The pile was not rigged to the clamp housing or attached to the crane whip line, fell striking the crane cab.  For the complete report or other fatality investigation reports go to the OR-FACE website.

Based on discussions about this incident, ASSE Columbia-Willamette Chapter is hosting a Rigging & Signaling Safety Training Course on March 14, 2016.  The course is to assist the employer in meeting the “Qualified Rigger” and/or “Qualified Signalperson” requirements.  To encourage participation, the course cost has been significantly reduced.  Class size is limited and registration is online.

Resources: subtopic: Cranes


Asian gypsy moth makes appearance in Portland

East Coast forest defoliation caused by EGM

East Coast forest defoliation caused by EGM

In 2015, Asian gypsy moths (AGM), a plant-eating invasive species, were detected in Portland’s Forest Park and northern part of the St Johns neighborhood. The moths were found during routine monitoring in traps placed throughout the region by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. A related species, the European gypsy moth (EGM), was also found. EGM is endemic to the northeastern United States, has defoliated millions of acres of trees and shrubs, and since the late 1970s, small isolated populations have been detected and eradicated in Oregon. AGM represent an even greater threat, however, because unlike EGM females, AGM females fly and are attracted to city lights.

But not only are AGM more invasive than EGM, AGM also feed on a wider range of host trees, including conifers such as larch that are not favored by EGM. Preferred broad-leaf hosts include oak, apple, alder, aspen, filbert, willow, birch, madrone, cottonwood, and plum. Coniferous species such as Douglas fir, pine, and western hemlock are suitable hosts as well. Reading this list, it is not hard to imagine the environmental and economic havoc that gypsy moths could inflict on the Pacific Northwest. Establishment of gypsy moth threatens forest ecosystems and results in long-term increases in the use of pesticides by homeowners as well as by forest and nursery managers.

Gypsy moth male

Gypsy moth male

An AGM eradication program in Northwest Portland is being planned for the spring of 2016.  The recommended strategy includes aerial application of a minimal-risk biological insecticide approved for use on organic food crops to routinely control caterpillar pests, with the active ingredient Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (Btk). Btk is a naturally occurring bacterium that has been used effectively in other gypsy moth eradication projects in Oregon since 1984. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently conducting an environmental assessment through the National Environmental Policy Act to review this recommendation. The environmental assessment requires that the public be provided a 30-day period to comment on its findings. It is expected this document will be available for public comment in early February.

Two public open-house events, coordinated by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Invasive Species Council, will be held to discuss the Asian gypsy moth eradication program. The goals of these events are to share information about the Asian gypsy moth, discuss the eradication proposal, and answer questions. Governmental and non-governmental agencies will be on hand. The events will be held at James John Elementary School, 7439 N. Charleston Ave, Portland, OR 97203. The first is February 17, 2016 from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm & February 20, 2016 from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm.

For more information about gypsy moths:

Asian versus European gypsy moth

1992 Asian gypsy moth eradication program

APHIS fact sheet

Gypsy moth in Oregon – 2015

Oregon Invasive Species Council information

For information on Btk:

From Oregon Public Health

National Pesticide Information Center fact sheet

General questions about Bt (NPIC)

On YouTube (NPIC)

From Purdue University

CalEPA fact sheet

Seattle & King County fact sheet

Calling all summer research interns

our 2014 interns

2015 interns

Another year is upon us – and that means potential summer interns can now apply for our intern program.

Summer Student Research Awards are three-month paid summer internships designed to introduce undergraduate students to biomedical and occupational health research. To be eligible for an Institute-funded award, students must be Oregon residents or attend college in Oregon.

Our summer interns get the opportunity to support unique research projects within our basic and applied research areas. Learn more about our research. Student interns present their findings in a scientific poster session in August complete with awards for the top posters and to which families and friends are invited.

Do you know an undergraduate student interested in collaborating with us this summer? Send them to our website for more information and application instructions. Applications are due no later than April 1, 2016. We can’t wait to see who will be bringing their energy and ideas to our projects this summer.

2014 Occupational Health Sciences and Oregon Healthy Workforce Center Interns.

2014 interns


2013 Interns

2013 Interns

How’s that video coming along?

video contest Less than ten days remain for Oregon high school students to create and submit their 90 second video entry for the Oregon Young Employee Safety Coalition’s annual “Work Safe. Save a Friend” contest.

O[yes] seeks entries that will inspire teens to do at least one thing differently to stay safe on the job. The group looks for videos that will motivate other teens to think about the importance of speaking up for safety in the workplace, and awards $500 to the winning producer with a matching prize to the student’s school. Second and third cash prizes, also with matching school awards are also awarded.

Any high schooler in Oregon – whether in public or private school, or home-schooled – can submit an entry. The O[yes] team is eager to see what new and creative messages will be delivered this year. And don’t think it’s too late! Previous years’ winners have admitted not actually filming their video until the last minute. Are you or do you know a creative high school teen? Send them to the video contest website. And our one tip? Read the rules!

BOLI vendor meeting informs

Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) Apprenticeship & Training Division ODOT-BOLI Highway Construction Workforce Development Program “Promoting opportunities in Oregon’s highway construction trades” is a partnership to expand opportunities for diversity in employment, increase apprenticeship participation and increase training resources for individuals interested in highway construction careers throughout the State of Oregon. The Program held it’s quarterly vendor meeting at the Northwest College of Construction last week.  The meeting is pictured below.

BOLI meeting 1-2016

Vendors described available grants, loans at low interest rates to build credit, successful apprenticeship programs for minorities and women, and the Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria.

Dr. Kent Anger is pointing at a powerpoint slide in construction health.

Dr. Kent Anger of the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center (above) described the results of a Center Total Worker Health (TWH) project pilot study in construction.  Participants learned team-building skills, healthy lifestyle information and tracked the frequency of their interactions with their co-workers; the participants reported liking the program and finding it useful in confidential surveys.  The results revealed a number of improvements in topics taught by the training, including statistically significant increases in self-reported family-supportive behaviors, safety compliance, support for exercise by family and co-workers, and sleep time increased by 20 minutes per night.  Interested companies can learn more about the supervisor training project in construction at the OHWC website.


OR-FACE report used in SAIF Ag Seminars


Kevin White and Kevin Pfau 2015-2016 SAIF Agricultural Seminar

Kevin White and Kevin Pfau
2015-2016 SAIF Agricultural Seminar

There’s a new face in the 2015-2016 SAIF Agricultural Safety Seminar series. Kevin White, executive director of the Oregon Future Farmers of America Foundation, co-taught the English sessions with veteran instructor, Kevin Pfau. Although not in person, Kirk Lloyd did present a segment, “News from OSHA”, by video. The seminars began in November and will be held in 16 cities across the state. Eight sessions will be conducted entirely in Spanish.  I attended the session held in Hillsboro on January 5.

The OR-FACE investigation report, “Vineyard worker killed in fall from trailer,” was incorporated into a group activity. Kevin Pfau read the introduction and provided some background on the case. Each table of participants were then asked to play the role of the safety committee to find and prioritize the hazards and then develop strategies to eliminate or reduce hazards. Descriptions of the topics covered in the seminar can be found here.

Kevin White led the discussion on culture of risk-taking, e.g., not communicating the risks and how to perform a task with minimal risk of injury. According to SAIF data (SAIF policyholders only) there are about 2,200 Oregon agricultural injuries a year with a cost almost $20 million, approximately $50,000 per day in dollars alone. The human costs (pain, suffering) and loss of revenue were not included in monetary cost described above, thus total cost is much higher. Kevin emphasized that these factors reinforce the need for change and to “Think about safety in a new way.”

I look forward to next year’s series and more discussions on enhancing safety culture on farms and within the agricultural community.

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