OHSU Receives $11 Million Grant to Fund New Superfund Research Center

04/10/00    Portland, Ore.

When Oregonians hear the word Superfund, many think of hazardous chemicals in a six-mile stretch of the Willamette River.

However, starting June 1, it also stands for a new health benefit for Northwest residents.

CROET, the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology at Oregon Health Sciences University, is pleased to announce the award of a five-year, $11 million federal grant to establish a Superfund basic research center in Oregon. There are 17 such centers in the United States and only four institutions other than OHSU received grants to open new centers. The CROET-led grant award is one of the largest ever presented to OHSU.

The Superfund Basic Research Program is a federally funded program administered by the Division of Extramural Research and Training at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, an institute of the National Institutes of Health, in coordination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The new Superfund basic research center will comprise a consortium of biomedical and non-biomedical scientists drawn from OHSU, Oregon State University and Battelle in Richland, Wash. CROET Director and Senior Scientist Peter Spencer, Ph.D., principal investigator of the Superfund grant, will coordinate the research aimed at exploring new ways of cleaning up contamination, preventing toxic disorders and promoting community and workplace health.

"This synergy of scientific excellence and technical horsepower will enable us to employ leading-edge approaches, including molecular modeling and protein and gene research, to address environmental challenges to the nervous system of humans and other mammals," said Spencer.

The CROET-led Superfund center will explore nervous system impacts of widespread environmental pollutants that commonly contaminate water used for bathing and drinking. Scientists will determine how these chemicals circulate in the body and enter the brain. Researchers also will study the adverse actions chemicals may have on the brain during development and throughout the aging process. Another major research goal is to discover new ways to detect exposures to hazardous substances, identify factors that increase susceptibility to chemicals and measure adverse health effects at an early, controllable stage.

Battelle will draw upon the scientists and unique technologies at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., which it operates for the Department of Energy. Based in Columbus, Ohio, Battelle focuses on technology development, laboratory management and technology commercialization. Operated by Battelle since 1965, PNNL is one of DOE's nine multi-program national laboratories and conducts research in the areas of energy, environment, national security and health sciences.

"The laboratory has developed strong capabilities in bioremediation research, contaminant exposure assessment and computational chemistry that will round out this proposal," said Lura J. Powell, Ph.D., senior vice president of Battelle and PNNL director. "This collaboration and the research leverage that it brings enables us to apply these capabilities to the greater issue of human health."

According to Blaine Metting, PNNL fundamental science program manager, "Our team is very excited about winning this prestigious grant and having the opportunity to work with OHSU and Oregon State University to build a world-class environmental health collaboration in the Pacific Northwest."

Donald Reed, Ph.D., professor emeritus at OSU, will conduct the Corvallis component of the new Superfund basic research center. "OSU and Battelle are both contributing research expertise in soil and groundwater bioremediation, as well as complementing strengths in toxicology and chemical analysis," noted Reed. "OSU will also expand its collaborative toxicology graduate training program with CROET. Oregon has a long tradition of NIEHS-supported environmental health research. This support is provided through individual research grants and a training grant supported by the Oregon State University Environmental Health Sciences Center, directed by Dr. William Baird, and the Marine/Freshwater Biomedical Sciences Center, directed by Dr. George Bailey."

CROET is a neuroscience-focused toxicology research and educational center that has a state-mandated mission to help promote health, and prevent disease and injury among working Oregonians. CROET leverages its base support for occupational health research from the Oregon Workers' Compensation system to seek additional federal dollars to address environmental and occupational problems that impact the workforce in Oregon and beyond.

"The creation of this Superfund basic research center demonstrates national recognition of a world-class team of scientists across the Northwest," said Spencer. "The award also advances CROET's goal of becoming one of the premier occupational and environmental research institutes in the nation."