SMALL: TOXIC CONSEQUENCES FOR REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH
1973, a fire retardant containing polybroximinated biphenyl (PBB)
was accidentally mixed with animal feed on Michigan farms. By
the time the chemical contaminants were identified, at least 4,000
people were potentially exposed through contaminated meat and
dairy products. PBB accumulates in fatty tissue in the body and
is stored for years. Working with epidemiologist Michele Marcus,
ARCS scholar Chanley Small is project director of a long-term
NIH study on the reproductive health consequences in women exposed
to PBB in utero and as infants. The women, now in their 30s, experienced
puberty at younger ages than normal.
Small is examining how genetic variants
both independently and in combination with environmental exposures
affect reproductive health. "We're trying to determine whether
variations in a gene called CYP17 affect hormone levels in premenopausal
women," she says. "We've found that women with a specific
variant often have higher estrogen levels. This gene has been
associated with endometrial and ovarian cancers and, possibly,
Small, who has a master's degree
in biology and three small children of her own, is working with
Emory geneticist Stephanie Sherman to determine genotype for CYP17
in the blood of 170 women. "The ARCS funding has given me
a great opportunity to collaborate with a renowened geneticist,"
After graduation at the end of this
year, Small plans to continue her collaboration on the PBB study.
"Ultimately, I'd like to teach and do research at a university
like Emory," she says.
MURRAY: ACUTE RESPIRATORY INFECTIONS IN BANGLADESHI CHILDREN
Kamalapur district of Dhaka, Bangladesh, is one of the most heavily
populated urban slums in the world. Here, throughout the day,
one substance or another is burned in most households for cooking
or heating or to repel mosquitos. And, according to ARCS scholar
01MSPH, that's very hard on the lungs.
Murray's goal is to learn as much
as she can about the high incidence of acute lower respiratory
infections among Bangladeshi children. Her dissertation in epidemiology
focuses on pneumonia in children under five who live in Kamalapur,
where the incidence of acute lower respiratory infections is one
per child per year for children under 2. In rural areas of Bangladesh,
the incidence is .23 per child per year.
The problem is complex, fueled by
the interplay of seasonal changes like monsoons, indoor and oudoor
air polution, and the high density of the population. About 77,000
people are crammed into every square mile of this slum, and households
and beds are generally crowded. By contrast, Atlanta has 3,100
people per square mile.
Murray has designed a questionnaire
for parents of children under 5, gathering informaiton such as
how many people and children live in the household, the number
of rooms in the house, and the number of people sharing a bed
with the child. It also surveys parents about the cooking and
heating fuels used, environmental tobacco exposure, and mosquito
repellent. "While a lot of households use natural gas for
cooking, many use wood and crop residues, which are very hard
on the lungs," says Murray.
With the help of the International
Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh, and CDC, Murray's
questionnaire will be administered every three months for one
year. The study period will account for changing factors based
on the seasons, such as fuel use and prevalence of certain viruses
and bacteria during specific times of the year.
Murray's work has been slowed somewhat
by Bangladesh's recent severe flooding, which has displaced many
of the families enrolled in her study. However, she is still on
track to graduate by 2006, and her goal is to become a member
of CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service and eventually work in
"My PhD work has shown me that
I can have a greater impact on health by working on problems affecting
developing countries," she says. "I feel so lucky. I
am getting absolutely everything I wanted to get out of my PhD
experience. I have been able to apply for funding, design my portion
of the study, and see a study from start to finish. And I've had
an amazing international experience. The ARCS funding has made
an incredible difference for me. Without it, I would really be
struggling right now."
Gregg is a freelance writer in Atlanta and a former editor of