Associate Professor of Environmental Genetics and Pathophysiology
My research is focused on the mechanistic understanding of how the environment contributes to human health and disease. The overall goal of my research is to elucidate the complex gene-environment interactions that are critically involved in diseases relevant to public health. My goal is aided by the unprecedented and breathtaking development of new tools in modern genetics and genomics. These tools have the potential to advance our understanding of how gene-environment interactions impact health and are transforming the studies of environment health sciences and public health. Over the past ten years, I have developed a multi-faceted research program, in which I leverage my expertise in functional genetics and genomics to discover genes and genetic networks that, together with environmental exposures, contribute to the development of environmental diseases. I use a combination of molecular, cellular and biochemical approaches as well as animal models to further elucidate the underlying mechanisms contributing to these diseases. Through collaborations with epidemiologists, exposure scientists, and clinician colleagues, I also aim to understand the genetic basis of individual susceptibility to environmental exposure and to disease in the human population.
My multidisciplinary approach combines the power for functional genetics and genomics, mechanistic studies, and human epidemiology to tackle important public health problems. Major areas of research in my laboratory address: 1) how environmental metal toxicants induce a multitude of diseases such as diabetes, impaired neurodevelopment and neurodegeneration; and 2) what causes asthma and how to better prevent or treat it.
In addition to these gene-environment studies, I have developed an innovative research program on extracellular vesicles (EVs). This line of research is based on my serendipitous discovery of a novel type of EVs that we named ARMMs (ARRDC1-Mediated Microvesicles). I am investigating the physiological role of ARMMs in intercellular signaling and inter-tissue communication. I am also exploring the exciting possibility that ARMMs may be harnessed as a versatile platform for delivering therapeutic molecules into targeted cells. Moreover, study of ARMMs, and EVs in general, will contribute to my gene-environment research, since the vesicles are potential novel biomarkers for complex human diseases and for environmental exposures.
Photo: Kent Dayton/HSPH