Research Programs

The Division’s principal research areas are occupational and environmental epidemiology and environmental toxicology. The current major research topics include work organization with a focus on the cardiovascular effects of occupational stress; neurological effects of pesticides and heavy metals exposure in children; and three areas of toxicology: neurotoxicology, inhalation and pulmonary toxicology, and reproductive and developmental toxicology.

Areas of Interest
  • Children's Environmental Health. Dean Baker directs the research program on children’s environmental health. The major themes of this research are development of study design and biological monitoring strategies to assess exposure pathways, and assessment of developmental effects of gestational or early life exposures. During the past decade, this program had conducted studies of environmental risks for asthma morbidity among inner-city children; lead exposure pathways among children in Tijuana, Mexico; DDT and solvent exposure and health effects among children in communities adjacent to Superfund sites in California; and latent effects of gestational exposure to heptachlor in Hawaii. This research has been conducted in collaboration with faculty in the Department of Environmental Health, Science, and Policy and in the Department of Pediatrics. The Center faculty (Baker, Seltzer & Yang) have recently collaborated with the Department of Pediatrics and others in developing a successful proposal to be a Vanguard Center for the National Children’s Study.

    The Department of Community and Environmental Medicine is collaborating with the General Clinical Research Center in studies on air pollution and induction of asthma in children. Ralph Delfino and Michael Kleinman are the lead investigators on this project.

  • Work Organization. Research on work organization and cardiovascular disease risk is directed by Peter Schnall and Dean Baker, who have conducted research in this area for more than two decades. This research emphasizes epidemiological studies and clinical research using ambulatory monitoring techniques to assess blood pressure and heart rate variability. The faculty have made significant contributions showing associations between job strain (a measure of job stress due to high psychological demands and low control) and increased ambulatory blood pressure, increased left ventricular mass, and higher cardiovascular disease risk.

  • Neurotoxicology. The impact of environmental factors upon the expression of chronic degenerative neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, is increasingly relevant as the population ages. These factors are under study using animal models of neurodegenerative disease. Dr. Bondy is currently studying the enhancing effect of iron on aluminum neurotoxicity in the aging brain and correlating levels of aluminum and oxidative parameters in human post-mortem cerebral tissue from aged and Alzheimer's brains. In another study, Dr. Bondy is testing the hypothesis that the cerebral mitochondrion is a susceptible target of age-related pro-oxidant events within the central nervous system and that administration of exogenous factors may modify the rate of these events and influence other biological and behavioral consequences of aging.

  • Air Pollution Health Effects. The Air Pollution Health Effects Laboratory, directed by Robert Phalen, has conducted more than 25 years of research in the areas of the pulmonary toxicology of air pollutants, particle distribution in the lung, both human and in animal models, and aerosol dynamics. Dr. Phalen's current research focuses on predicting the accumulation of inhaled cigarette smoke in the human lung and the persistence of cigarette smoke in an indoor setting. His research is providing needed information on the unusual behavior of clouds of cigarette smoke and information to measure and control the human health risks of cigarette smoking.

    Dr. Michael Kleinman is conducting a series of studies to examine the health effects of atmospheric mixtures that realistically model sizes and compositions of particles in California air. He is determining the mechanisms that mediate lung injury and other adverse effects of inhaled particles and whether these mechanisms of injury are particle size dependent. His hypothesis is that particulate matter exposure initiates cardiopulmonary toxicity by injuring epithelial cells, resulting in oxidative stress and the release of mediators that cause cardiopulmonary injury. Dr. Kleinman is also collaborating in a multidisciplinary study on human health effects for the City of Houston; he is determining the appropriate exposure response and dose-response relationships to use in assessing air pollution health effects in the Houston area.

  • Reproductive and Developmental Effects. The Center’s research program on reproductive and developmental effects of occupational and environmental exposures – directed by Ulrike Luderer – is multidisciplinary, encompassing toxicology, epidemiology, and developmental biology. The toxicology component focuses on mechanisms by which chemicals cause reproductive toxicity, with a current emphasis on the roles of the antioxidant glutathione (GSH) in ovarian follicles. Research also combines toxicological and epidemiological approaches to understanding reproductive and developmental toxicants in human populations.