LCOM & Department News

Shukla Research Highlights How Asbestos Causes Lung Disease Mesothelioma

March 27, 2018 by Jennifer Nachbur

Arti Shukla, Ph.D., and lab team members Maximilian MacPherson and Phillip Munson.

Asbestos exposure is widely known to cause human disease, including the deadly cancer mesothelioma – although researchers aren’t sure why. While asbestos is inhaled into the lungs, mesothelioma develops in physically remote mesothelial cells. No successful methods exist for early detection of exposure to asbestos. New research published online in The FASEB Journal, however, may have unlocked the first piece of this puzzle. 

“Our findings suggest that cells in one region of the body are capable of sending messages to cells in a distant location, and can cause significant genetic changes,” said Arti Shukla, Ph.D., associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine and a UVM Cancer Center member. “This communication from injured or diseased cells to healthy cells has the potential to initiate changes that might lead to cancer or other diseases.” 

To conduct the experiment, Shukla and colleagues used two groups of cells known to be the first to encounter asbestos fibers once inhaled: lung epithelial cells and macrophages. The researchers split these cells into one group that was exposed to asbestos, and another that served as a control group and was left to grow normally. The team let the cells grow in these conditions for three days, then collected the exosomes released by the cells. 

First, the researchers examined the proteins inside the exosomes, discovering that the asbestos-exposed group had significant increases in many proteins of interest. Second, they added the exosomes to healthy mesothelial cells (which eventually can become mesothelioma cancer cells) and assessed gene changes after four days. They found that the exosomes from asbestos-exposed cells caused dramatic changes to many cancer-related genes in mesothelial cells. 

These findings have implications for how asbestos exposure may cause cancer by sending exosomes that detrimentally alter the genetics of cells. The study also points to the remarkable potential of these exosomes and the proteins they contain to act as biomarkers, indicating the development or progression of asbestos-related disease. 

“These intriguing findings go a good ways toward explaining the conundrum of how a pulmonary irritant triggers distant effects,” said Thoru Pederson, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal. “They also add to the burgeoning array of studies that link exosome-based communication to pathogenic events.”

This research was supported financially by the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health.

(This article was adapted from a press release produced by Todd Bentsen, Director of Communications, FASEB.)

Department Highlights

Department alumni, Dr. Bobbi Pritt, M.D. featured in Vermont Medicine Magazine. To read her story click on the photo below.

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Dr's Leonard and HuberA Remarkable Gift from Dr. Sally Huber, Ph.D.

At the end of last week's Research Day, Dr. Leonard gave a surprise announcement: a very generous bequethment of $5 million by research faculty emerita, Dr. Sally Huber! The funds will go toward two endowed professorships for junior investigators in our department. The endowments will be named for her parents, Elmer R. Huber and Blodwen S. Huber, and will support junior research faculty for five years.(9/2018)

This amazing support will allow junior faculty time and funds to gain independence while pursuing the milestone achievement of being awarded their first R01 grant.

 

Heintz Awarded 2018 Distinguised Graduate Alumni Award

Dr. Nick Heintz, Ph.D. received the 2018 UVM Medical Alumni Association’s Distinguished Graduate Alumni Award​, which is presented to Larner College of Medicine (LCOM) alumni who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in basic, clinical or applied research; education; industry; public service/humanitarianism; and/or outstanding commitment to the LCOM community.

He accepted his award at the college's Celebrating Research Excellence event at the end of October. (September 2018)

Kida Received Certificate of Commendation

Dr. Kida receives award from the State of Vermont...read more here. (August 2018)

Leonard and Committee Publish Through National Academies Press

Dr. Debra Leonard, along with a committee under the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, ​published "Returning Individual Research Results to Participants: Guidance for a New Research Paradigm" through The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2018 (Committee Member). (August 2018)

Excellence in Education

The Larner College of Medicine’s second year medical students nominate and elect faculty who they want to recognize for their outstanding teaching and support over their first years of the Foundations education. (February 2018)

Pathology nominees (winners in bold):

AMWA Gender Equity Award  - Pamela Gibson; Sharon Mount; Rebecca Wilcox

Dean Warhsaw Integration Award - Rebecca Wilcox

Silver Stethoscope Award - Scott Andreson; Maureen Harmon; John Lunde

Above and Beyond Award - Ronald Bryant; Rebecca Wilcox

Foundations Course Director Award -Rebecca Wilcox

Outstanding Foundations Course Award

  • Cardiovascular, Respiratory & Renal Systems: (Ron Bryant; Kelly Butnor; and Pam Gibson are the primary pathologists in each section of the course, respectively)
  • Nutrition, Metabolism & the Gastrointestinal System: Course Director is Rebecca Wilcox

Foundations Teaching Award - Ronald Bryant; Pamela Gibson; Rebecca Wilcox; Christina Wojewoda

Dr. Yvonne Janssen-Heininger Receives Patent

Yvonne Janssen-Heinger was awarded a patent on the ​concept that strategies to inhibit GSTP has utility for the treatment of patients with pulmonary fibrosis. Congratulations, Yvonne! (January 2018)

Drs. Bronwyn Bryant and Phillip Munson inducted into the Teaching Academy

Last week Bronwyn and Phillip were inducted into University of Vermont's Teaching Academy. The Teaching Academy sustains and supports an interdisciplinary community of educators who value the scholarship of teaching and learning while facilitating educator development; improve the efficiency and quality of medical education through collaboration and scholarship; and promote an academic environment that increases the value and impact of educators locally, regionally, and nationally. (January 2018)

Dr. Leonard Video Recording Available 

Dr. Leonard gives a series of talks on Genomic Medicine in Vermont for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI)​. A video recording of the talk is available here >> (October 2017)

Department Members Took Part in the March For Science

Banner carriers: Dr. Debra Leonard, Sara Kwolek & Dr. Sharon Mount. Also, in view are Doug Taatjes,Ph.D., and Dr. Rebecca Wilcox. (April 2017)

Janssen-Heininger Featured Woman in Science

Dr. Yvonne Janssen-Heininger, Ph.D., was chosen as the featured ​Woman in Science by the Society for Redox Biology and Medicine! She got pretty colorful with some of her answers, so definitely worth a read. (March 2017) Read the story >>

Buskiewicz Publishes in Science Signaling

Dr. Iwona Buskiewicz, Ph.D., publishes study in Science Signaling, revealing potential key to alternative Lupus treatment.  (February 2017)

Genomic Medicine Laboratory Grand Opening (January 2017)
Larner College of Medicine Foundations Awards

Pamela Gibson, M.D. won the AMWA Gender Equity Award, which honors a male or female faculty member who promotes a gender-fair environment for the education and training of physicians and gender diversity in the field. Pam is Co-advisor of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance. (January 2017)

Rebecca Wilcox, M.D. won the Foundations Course Director Award, and her Nutrition, Metabolism, and Gastrointestinal System (NMGI) course won Outstanding Foundations Course Award. Rebecca was also nominated for the Foundations Teaching Award. (January 2017)

Mark Fung, M.D., Ph.D. and Andy Goodwin, M.D. were also nominated for the Silver Stethoscope awards, which recognizes the faculty member who had few lecture hours, but made a substantial contribution to students’ education. (January 2017)