Olson to Head UB's New Division of Environmental Health Sciences

By Lois Baker

Release Date: January 28, 2010 This content is archived.


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James Olson has been named director of UB's new Division of Environmental Health Sciences.

BUFFALO, N.Y -- The University at Buffalo's School of Public Health and Health Professions has established a Division of Environmental Health Sciences and appointed James R. Olson, PhD, professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, as director.

The division will be part of the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine (SPM), which currently has research and teaching programs in environmental epidemiology and environmental health. Olson has held a secondary faculty appointment in SPM since 1994.

Jo L. Freudenheim, PhD, professor and chair of SPM, said: "Having the expertise Jim brings in environmental toxicology as part of our program will be terrific for both students and other faculty doing work on environmental health.

"While there has been a long collaboration between Jim and others in SPM, this is a chance to bridge the work that we are doing in our department with the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and with the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences."

"Environmental Health Sciences is highly interdisciplinary, and requires faculty from a wide range of backgrounds to address diverse environmental health problems through multidisciplinary research, teaching and service," said Olson.

The new division's multidisciplinary research will support the UB 2020 strategic strength in molecular recognition in biological systems and bioinformatics.

Under Olson's leadership, the new division will broaden the scope of Environmental Health Sciences by hiring new faculty and by establishing cross-discipline affiliations with faculty in environmental epidemiology, toxicology/environmental and occupational health, environmental engineering, environmental chemistry, environmental geography, environmental law and others areas.

The division will support environmental health research, and will assist in teaching the MPH environmental health concentration in the department's Master of Public Health program. Olson currently is leading research studies on exposure to pesticides, the potential for adverse effects associated with exposures in certain populations, and genetic susceptibility to the pesticides. The studies are funded by $1.5 million in grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Olsen's work also has been supported by UB's Interdisciplinary Research Development Fund.

The EPA grant focuses on the activation and detoxification of organophosphate pesticides (OPs), the most commonly used pesticides in the U.S. and worldwide. OPs can stop the action of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme essential to nerve function in humans and in other animals and insects.

"One objective of this study is to use experimental data on the rates of activation and detoxification by specific human enzymes, and to assess the potential for genetic variability in these processes," says Olson. "Levels of pesticide metabolites reported in human urine will be used along with these data to better estimate exposures and the resulting effects of OPs."

Olson and Matthew Bonner, PhD, director of SPM's master's of public health concentration in environmental health, are collaborating with researchers from Oregon Health and Sciences University, the University of Washington and Egypt's Menoufia University on the four-year NIEHS grant to assess exposures to OP pesticides in 255 Egyptian cotton field workers and to determine if there are neurotoxic effects.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.