Student & Alumni Achievements

Student & Alumni Achievements

Ohio State Student’s Research on Harmful Algae Blooms and Cancer Honored with the Science Communication Award

Mr. Igor Mrdjen, a PhD student in the College of Public Health’s Division of Environmental Health Sciences, received the Science Communication Award at the International Association for Great Lakes Research’s 60th Annual Great Lakes Research Conference, held in Detroit in May.

[Photo by Ohio Sea Grant & Stone Lab]

Mr. Mrdjen’s research, titled “Evaluation of Cyanobacteria and Their Toxins in a Two-staged Model of Hepatocarcinogenesis,” showed that chronic ingestion of the toxins may promote the development of liver tumors in mice previously exposed to a chemical carcinogen. The study was co-authored by Ohio State College of Public Health faculty members Dr. Jiyoung Lee; Dr. Thomas Knobloch; and Dr. Christopher Weghorst.

The research focused on the toxins that can be created during harmful algae blooms in which cyanobacteria, microscopic organisms found in most lakes and rivers, grow rapidly and affect the cleanliness of the water.

“The cyanotoxin we tested was Microcystin-LR (MC-LR), the most prevalent toxin found in Lake Erie, Grand St. Mary’s, and Buckeye Lake, and the most potent toxin of the Microcystin family,” Mr. Mrdjen said. “MC-LR has been cited as a suspected carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and can produce negative outcomes in acute exposures. In the past, Toledo has had to shut down its water supply due to these toxins.”

“This pilot study substantiates the need for additional research to be done, not only to further define the cancer-causing potential of these toxins in preclinical animal models, but also to translate these findings to humans and other mammals in an effort to best prevent negative outcomes from occurring.”

The pilot experiment tested whether ingesting low concentrations of MC-LR in drinking water over a long period of time (30 weeks) would accelerate the progression of liver cancer development in mice previously exposed to a liver carcinogen. Additionally, Mr. Mrdjen tested if the ingestion of cyanobacterial cells containing multiple Microcystin toxins would promote the progression of tumors to an even greater extent.

“We used a different model of exposure, treating mice first with a chemical to start the cancer process and then allowing mice to drink the toxin or bacteria-laced water freely, without relying on gavage or injection techniques,” Mr. Mrdjen said. “This type of exposure to cyanobacterial cells would be equivalent to recreational exposures, or consumption of untreated water often seen in developing nations.”

Based on the results of the experiment, Mr. Mrdjen was able to observe that while mice exposed to MC-LR or the cyanobacterial cells at low doses in their drinking water for 30 weeks did not develop significantly higher numbers of tumors than the mice drinking clean water, the tumors that did form were more advanced, which Mr. Mrdjen said suggests that Microcystin toxins may be acting as liver cancer promoters in mice.

“Additionally, we found that the toxicity of ingesting a cyanobacterial mass with equivalent MC-LR concentrations produced a significantly higher death rate in the mice, hinting that some combinatorial effects due to the presence of multiple toxins may be a factor in the health of the mice,” Mr. Mrdjen said.

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