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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

UNC Faculty Member Awarded $1M from NIOSH to Study Human Susceptibility to Toxic Compounds

The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety has awarded more than $1 million to a UNC researcher for two studies to find biomarkers that might help determine which workers are most susceptible to diseases caused by toxins in automotive spray paints and other surface coatings.

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[Photo: The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety awarded more than $1 million to UNC’s Dr. Leena Nylander-French. Her studies will find biomarkers to help determine which workers are most susceptible to diseases caused by toxins in automotive spray paints and other surface coatings. Photo by Ms. Jocelyn Durston]

Dr. Leena Nylander-French, professor of occupational and environmental health in the department of environmental sciences and engineering at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, has looked for deleterious effects of inhalation of and skin exposure to occupational and environmental toxic compounds. For the past 12 years, NIOSH has funded her research into certain lipophilic compounds, which can penetrate the skin barrier easily and enter the body’s systemic circulation.

The two most recent research projects funded by NIOSH build upon Dr. Nylander-French’s published studies establishing that diisocyanate oligomers penetrate the skin more readily than monomers and that automotive spray painters’ skin exposure to isocyanates can exceed the regulatory limit dose established for inhalation exposure.

Dr. Nylander-French and colleagues also conducted a study, “DNA methylation modifies urine biomarker levels in 1.6-hexamethylene diisocyanate [HDI] exposed workers: A pilot study”, published online October 22 in Toxicology Letters. That project indicates potential for individual differences in DNA methylation and genetic variants to modify levels of urine biomarkers in exposed workers and to reveal susceptibility disparities among individuals.

In the U.S., a few hundred thousand people work in occupations through which they are exposed to these oligomers. When the toxic compounds are absorbed through the skin, they can cause respiratory sensitivity, such as asthma. Up to 30 percent of exposed workers could develop occupational asthma.

“Asthma will not go away,” Dr. Nylander-French said. “It’s a debilitating illness that takes these workers out of the workforce permanently.”

Read more: http://sph.unc.edu/sph-news/niosh-awards-nylander-french-1m-to-study-susceptibility-to-toxic-compounds/