Injury and Recovery of Nerves and Muscles

Our scientists conduct basic research that examines the causes of injury to nerves and muscles in order to identify protective, preventative, and recovery methodologies for such injuries.

Fruit Flies Are Aiding our Understanding of Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's Disease is the most common form of dementia, with approximately 26 million people suffering worldwide. It is expected that, with the increase in life span, this number will quadruple over the next four decades. With people continue to work later in life than they do today, this will affect worker populations.  Dr. Doris Kretzschmar's lab is studying the accumulation of amyloid plaques, one of the hallmark features of Alzheimer's disease, and developing a model for drug testing to find treatments that could eventually lead to increased quality of life and productivity of workers and in their retirement.

Assessment of Health Effects of Children Living in an Agricultural Community and Adolescents Working in High-Exposure Settings

There is increasing concern regarding the use of pesticides in agricultural communities and potential impacts on public health. Organophosphate (OP) pesticides are among those of greatest concern, due to their persistence once in the home and their established neurotoxic effects. Neurobehavioral tests have identified deficits in adult populations exposed to and poisoned by OP pesticides on farms. However, little research has examined OP pesticide exposure in children. While the neurotoxic effects of acute exposure to OP pesticides are well established, chronic low-level exposure are not well studied in adults and very few studies provide evidence of neurobehavioral deficits in farmworker children compared to controls. Children of farmworkers are presumed to be exposed to pesticides throughout development, and this exposure may produce subtle health effects that would not be detected by clinical examinations nor recognized by parents. A study conducted by Dr. Diane Rohlman and funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) through the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety & Health Center, examines health effects in children living in an agricultural community to determine if they are associated with current home pesticide exposure or an estimate of lifetime exposure.

A second study in Dr. Rohlman's lab probes more deeply into organophosphorus pesticide exposures in a high-exposure occupational setting. Experimental animal studies indicate that the developing brain is more susceptible to the neurotoxic effects of OPs than the adult brain, and low-level exposures to OP pesticides cause significant neurobehavioral deficits in animal research. This question is now being examined in adolescents (ages 15-18) in Egypt who are legally hired as seasonal workers to apply pesticides to the cotton crop. This pesticide application is highly regulated and standardized across Egypt, and is limited primarily to OP pesticides (& pyrethrins), generally chlorpyrifos.

Research on Organophosphorus Pesticides in Adult Workers

Organophosphorus (OP) pesticides used in Oregon and worldwide in agriculture are also predicted to be likely terrorism agents that could be used against the US. The Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences' Drs. Kent Anger and Pam Lein began studying this chemical in parallel human and animal studies aimed at identifying tests and measures (called biomarkers) that can effectively and quickly determine if humans have been harmed by exposures to these pesticides. The immediate effects of exposure to these OP pesticides at concentrations that cause fatal poisonings (if not treated) are well studied. Drs. Anger and Lein are investigating lower-concentration exposures that may produce silent or unobservable damage--but damage that affects the brain and nervous system. Pesticide exposures in Oregon occur at much lower concentrations than exposures or damage that would be expected following a terrorism event, so the human research led by Dr. Anger is being conducted in Egypt's cotton fields during pesticide application, where the highest workplace exposures ever reported are found (demonstrated in an article by the research team in press in NeuroToxicology). Dr. Lein is conducting the animal research under controlled exposures that reproduce the same degree of internal dosing and the same pattern of exposures as the human exposures that were measured in the first year of this research in Egypt. This research is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Dr. Lein moved to the University of California at Davis after this work was funded and the collaboration continues between her, Dr. Anger of the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences (the two lead investigators on the project), Drs. Rohlman (U. of Iowa) and Matt Lattal (OHSU) and investigators at the University of Washington, University of Buffalo and Menoufia University in Egypt.  The outcomes of the research will relate to anyone who is exposed to organophosphorus pesticides, whether at the low concentrations experienced on farms or in high concentrations that could be experienced in a terrorism incident.

Click here to see recent accomplishments of this program [links to accomplishments page] or click on the Research page to link to the research of the scientists working in this area:

Kent Anger, PhD
Doris Kretzschmar, PhD