C. elegans and oxidative stress
Adopted the C. elegans model system to study molecular mechanisms of oxidative stress. This work builds on previous studies in rodent and cell line models.
The C. elegans model is versatile, inexpensive, and was readily adapted for a biochemistry laboratory course built using the “Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE)” structure first used in 2019. This work describes the basic structure of the course and success metrics supporting its adoption. In the first third of the course, students learn the basics of C. elegans culturing techniques, worm picking, and microscopy skills. Students are taught basic C. elegans assays including LD50, cell titer blue, chemotaxis, touch test, body bend assays, and fluorescent microscopy. Students simultaneously research their own research proposal topic on a yet-unexplored area of toxicology with input and guidance from the professor and classmates, ensuring that their proposal included aspects of biochemistry and toxicology relevant to their coursework. After the first six weeks, students begin planning and performing their own experiments aligned with their proposal, reporting out their experiences each week. Students are required to research and attempt to implement at least one additional assay not covered in the laboratory course in support of their proposal. Students were also invited to select additional C. elegans knockout models aligned with their proposal from the CGC center which provides additional strains for $10. The experience culminates with an updated research proposal with preliminary data generated during the semester together with an oral PowerPoint presentation and proposed further experiments. During the Fall 2022 semester, student-led research projects included investigation of toxic mechanisms of action of nicotine, illicit drugs including cocaine and heroin, redox cycling chemicals, orlistat, and several others. Overall, the CURE format provides students the opportunity to model what occurs in a research lab such as designing and conducting their own experiments in support of their own hypotheses, to experience successes and failures, and to adapt to them. Student survey data (n=15) shows a high level of satisfaction with the laboratory course using the Grinnell College CURE post-course survey. Students rated themselves as having had moderate or better gains in scientific skills including “tolerance for obstacles faced in the research process”, “understanding how scientists think”, “ability to analyze data and other information”, and “ability to read and understand primary literature.” In addition, overall perceptions of the course were highly positive, including that the course was “a good way for learning about the process of scientific research” and “a good way of learning about the subject matter.”
Champion for undergraduate toxicology education.
The Society of Toxicology announces the development of a Learning Framework (https://www.toxicology.org/education/docs/SOT-Toxicology-Learning-Objectives.pdf) for undergraduate toxicology that will facilitate the development and sharing of evidence-based teaching materials for undergraduate toxicology educators throughout the world. This Learning Framework was modeled on the “Vision and Change Report” (www.visionandchange.org), an effort of the National Science Foundation and American Association for the Advancement of Science defining Core Concepts and Core Competencies to inform undergraduate biology course design. Vision and Change (V&C) has gained national acceptance, becoming a foundation for 14 upper-level courses designed by professional life science scientific societies. The undergraduate toxicology Learning Framework includes 5 Core Concepts aligned with V&C that encompass the discipline of toxicology: Evolution; Biological Information, Risk and Risk Management; Systems Toxicology; and Pathways and Transformations for Energy and Matter. Underpinning the Core Concepts are Level 2 Toxicology Concepts, which are broad disciplinary categories, Level 3 Learning Objectives, which address specific learning goals, and Level 4 Example Learning Objectives and Case Studies, which provide examples of how content might be taught. Syllabi from more than 20 undergraduate toxicology courses and several undergraduate toxicology textbooks were surveyed to determine toxicology-related Learning Objectives. From these, undergraduate educators can design courses tailored to their institutional needs by selecting a subset of Learning Objectives. Publication of a Learning Framework for toxicology will enable integration into other disciplines and facilitate the development and sharing of evidenced-based teaching materials for toxicology to educators in allied disciplines. Ultimately this will expand toxicology’s impact to a broader audience.
The risk of a terrorist attack in the U.S. has created challenges on how to effectively treat toxicities that result from exposure to chemical weapons. To address this concern, the U.S. has organized a trans-agency initiative across academia, government, and industry to identify drugs to treat tissue injury resulting from exposure to chemical threat agents. We sought to develop and evaluate an interactive educational session that provides hands-on instruction on how to re-purpose FDA approved drugs as therapeutics to treat toxicity from exposure to chemical weapons. As part of the Rutgers Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, 23 undergraduate students participated in a two-hour session that included: 1) an overview of chemical weapon toxicities, 2) a primer on pharmacology principles, and 3) an interactive session where teams of students were provided lists of FDA approved drugs to evaluate potential mechanisms of action and suitability as countermeasures for four chemical weapon case scenarios. The interactive session culminated in a competition for the best grant ‘sales pitch’. Pre- and post-program self-assessments using 5-point Likert rating scales were conducted during the session using Poll Everywhere. From this interactive training, students improved their understanding of 1) the ability of chemical weapons to cause long-term toxicities (means: pre-2.2; post-4.1, p<0.0001), 2) impact of route of administration and exposure scenario on drug efficacy (means: pre-2.6; post-4.3, p<0.0001), and 3) re-purposing FDA-approved drugs to treat exposure to chemical weapons (means: pre-1.7; post-4.0, p<0.0001). Seventy six percent of participants were ‘very likely’ or ‘extremely likely’ to recommend this activity to other students. These findings demonstrated that an interactive training exercise can provide students new insights into drug development for chemical threat agent toxicities.
Wastewater Testing for SARS-CoV-2
Led scientific development of wastewater testing for SARS-CoV-2 at four Coast Guard training centers.
Military training centers may be high risk environments for the spread of disease such as COVID-19. Individuals arrive after traveling from many parts of the country, live in communal settings, and undergo high-interaction training. A pilot study of wastewater testing was initiated in February, 2021 to determine its feasibility as a sentinel surveillance tool in the U.S. Coast Guard for SARS-CoV-2. Wastewater was analyzed for the presence of two viral genes, N and E, and quantified relative to levels of a fecal indicator virus, Pepper Mild Mottle Virus (PMMoV). A stability control, Bovine Syncytial Respiratory Virus vaccine, was added to samples to assess sample stability and degradation. Wastewater data was validated by comparison with concomitant screening and surveillance programs that identified asymptomatic individuals infected with SARS-CoV-2 by diagnostic testing at on site medical clinics using PCR. Elevated levels of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater were frequently associated with diagnosed cases, and in several instances, led to screenings of asymptomatic individuals that identified infected personnel, mitigating the risk of spread of disease. Wastewater screening also successfully indicated the presence of breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals. A method for assessing blackwater from Coast Guard vessels was also developed, allowing detection of SARS-CoV-2 virus in shipboard populations. In one instance, virus was detected in the blackwater four weeks following the diagnosis of a single person on a Coast Guard cutter. These data show that wastewater testing is an effective tool for measuring the presence and prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in military populations so that mitigation can occur and suggest other diseases may be assessed similarly. As a result, the Coast Guard has established three laboratories with wastewater testing capability at strategic locations and is actively continuing its wastewater testing program.
Ph.D., Pathobiology, 2004, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
B.S., Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 1998, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Pharmacology, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, Rutgers University, Jeffrey D. Laskin, Ph.D., Advisor (2004-2006)
Visiting Research Associate, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA (June-August 2004-2010)
Academic Positions Held
Professor of Chemical and Environmental Sciences, United States Coast Guard Academy (2008-2012, Assistant; 2012-2018, Associate; 2018-present, Full; 2019-2022, Section Chief)
Adjunct Professor, Biotechnology Management – Biosecurity and Biodefense, University of Maryland University College (2006-2008, Assistant; 2009-2013, Associate; 2013-present, Full)
Assistant Professor of Pharmacology & Toxicology, Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, Rutgers University (2006-2008, Assistant; 2008-present, Adjunct Assistant)
Adjunct Graduate Faculty Member, Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Rhode Island (2017-present)
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Chemistry, Lehigh University (2009-2018; Course Director, 2006-2018)
Adjunct Scientist, Cellular Dynamics Program, Marine Biological Laboratory (2009-2016)
Honors and Awards
Civilian Employee of the Year (senior level) – U.S. Coast Guard Academy (2022)
Meritorious Team Commendation Award – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Wastewater-Based Disease Surveillance Program – U.S. Coast Guard (2022)
Captain Niels P. Thomsen Innovation Award, Honorable Mention, Science or Technology – U.S. Coast Guard (2021)
Armed Forces Civilian Service Medal – U.S. Coast Guard Academy (2021)
Civilian Employee of the Quarter – U.S. Coast Guard Academy (2021)
Society of Toxicology – Undergraduate Educator Award (2018)
Center for Advanced Studies Excellence in Scholarship Award – U.S. Coast Guard Academy (2017)
Superintendent’s Award for Excellence – U.S. Coast Guard Academy (2014)
Marine Biological Laboratory – MBL James A. and Faith Miller Fellowship and Colwin Endowed Summer Research Fellowship (2011)
US Coast Guard Academy Center for Advanced Studies Summer Faculty Fellowship (2009)
Society of Toxicology – Best Postdoctoral Paper (2008)
Society of Toxicology – Molecular Biology Specialty Section – 1st Place, Postdoctoral Research Award (2006)
NIEHS Institutional Training Grant (T32) Recipient (2004-2006)
College of Agricultural Sciences Graduate Student Competitive Grant Program (2003)
Society of Toxicology Graduate Student Travel Award (2002)
Penn State University Bosworth Grier Memorial Scholarship (2002)