Toxicology and Biological Determinants of Disease

Adverse health outcomes of environmental exposures arise from interactions between chemical toxicants and exposed organisms. A major focus of the Gangarosa Department of Environmental Health is in understanding the mechanisms responsible for the effects of the environmental perturbations on health and disease. Mechanistic determination of these toxic effects relies on integrating multidisciplinary research approaches including:

  • Experimental molecular toxicology
  • Genome-scale analyses using -omics platforms and systems biology
  • Development and application of biomarkers of exposure, susceptibility, and effect
  • Data science and computational modeling

As the basic biological sciences advance, innovative experimental tools are increasingly applied to interrogate the biological systems exposed to a myriad of environmental toxicants. The technological revolutions in genomics, epigenomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and mass spectrometry have transformed biological research. With their unprecedented global coverage and resolution, these technologies can now provide insights on how animal and human bodies experience environmental exposures. Revealing toxicological responses and their underlying molecular pathways and mechanisms requires integration of experimental and computational approaches and the faculty of the Gangarosa Department of Environmental Health collaborate to specifically drive that integration.

The ability to critically evaluate environmental contributions to health and disease from a multidisciplinary perspective is imperative for the successful interrogation of environmental health data and associated outcomes and health risk assessment. With this in mind, classroom and research training in the Gangarosa Department of Environmental Health draws upon faculty expertise in epidemiology, exposure science, data science and biological mechanisms of disease, and unifies these approaches in a cooperative effort to provide a holistic understanding of the influence of chemical toxicants on human health.

Examples of departmental research on Toxicology and Biological Determinants of Health:

  • Using computational modeling of adverse outcome (toxicity) pathways to determine shape of dose-response relationships
  • Bridging the data gap from in vitro toxicity testing to human risk assessment through computational approaches
  • Identifying and assessing the effect of environmental toxicants on neurological development and function
  • Performing genome-scale analyses of molecular features in human populations to identify how exposures impact cellular function and are related to health and disease

  • Incorporating high resolution metabolomics into the investigations on the molecular mechanisms and disease etiology associated with exposures to air pollution or persistent organic pollutants
  • Applying refined measurements of clinical biomarkers indicative of chemical exposures, individual or population susceptibility and intermediate and terminal clinical effects in large population-based epidemiologic studies
  • Assessing the impact of the early life environment on genetic and epigenetic regulation

Biological Determinants of Health Faculty and Research Interests

Dana Boyd BarrPhD, Research Professor
Exposure assessment, biomarkers, endocrine disruptors, environmental analytical chemistry

Mike Caudle, PhD, Research Associate Professor
Cellular and animal models of neurotoxicity, cellular targets and mechanisms of neurotoxicity, pesticides, industrial toxicants

Todd Everson, PhD, Assistant Professor
Epigenetics, Genomics, Molecular Epidemiology, Environmental Health, Maternal and Child Health, Developmental Outcomes, Bioinformatics

Matthew Gribble, PhD, Assistant Professor
Oceans and human health, drinking water, environmental epistemology, epigenetics and gene-environment interactions, indigenous health

Donghai LiangPhD, Research Assistant Professor
Air Pollution, exposure assessment, exposome, epidemiology, metabolomics

Carmen Marsit, PhD, Professor
Epigenetics, genomics, exposome, children’s environmental health, metals, biomarkers, system biology, developmental origins of health and disease, cancer

Barry Ryan,PhD, Professor
Exposure assessment, biomarkers, endocrine disruptors, environmental analytical chemistry

Qiang Zhang, MD, PhD, Associate Professor
Computational toxicology, dynamic pathway modeling, systems biology, toxicokinetic modeling, endocrine disruptors, neurotoxicity, immunotoxicity, dose-response relationship, quantitative risk assessment

Gary Miller, PhD (Columbia University)

Moiz Mumtaz, PhD (CDC)

EH 543



EH 520

Human Toxicology


EH 523



EH 537

Biomarkers and Environmental Public Health


EH 590R

Application of ‘Omics Technologies in Public Health Research


EH 590R

Foundations of Neurotoxicology


EH 590R

Introduction to Physiologically-Based Toxicokinetic Modeling


EHS 730

Computational Systems Biology – Modeling Biological Responses


EHS 740

Molecular Toxicology


Fueta, Patrick -  “Developing a Dynamic Model of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Thyroid Axis for Risk Assessment of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals.” Advisor: Qiang Zhang

Genskow, Kelly - “Alterations of the Nigrostriatal Dopamine Circuit Following Exposure to the Current-Use Flame Retardant, HBCDD.” Advisor: W. Michael Caudle

Hussey, Michael -  “Placental lincRNA expression associated with prenatal toxic metals exposure and extreme birth weight.” Advisor: Carmen Marsit

Matthews, Emilia - "Prenatal Organophosphate Pesticide Exposure and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes in a Thai Agricultural Birth Cohort" Advisor: Dana Barr

Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Kniola, Alison - “Assessment of Neurological Deficits in African Communities Using DDT for Indoor Residual Spraying.” Advisor: W. Michael Caudle

Muller, Daniel - "Association of urinary bisphenol a concentration with obesity" Advisor: P. Barry Ryan

Zhang, Jiachen - "Evaluation of associations between personal traffic-related air pollution exposure and metabolic response using high-resolution metabolomics." Advisor: Donghai Liang

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Student Intern (Atlanta, GA): Learn the basic structure of a regulatory agency and the importance of acts such as FIFRA, and the role this legislation plays in regulating endocrine disruptors. Conduct a literature search to identify new and different modes of action for endocrine disruptors and write a review article on a specific mode of action.

China Center of Disease Control - National Institute of Environmental Health, Environmental Health Intern (Beijing, China): Practicing data analysis skills, laboratory skills and writing and communication skills, while working towards three major objectives:
1. Participate in indoor environmental factors for national population health hazard assessment project.
2. Attend the laboratory testing of the assessment on epigenetic toxicology of particulate dust.
3. Participate in the organization of the 2nd China Conference on Environment and Health.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Graduate Research Assistant (Atlanta, GA):Work to specifically assessing the use of geospatial methods in examining the toxicology of chemical-chemical and chemical/nonchemical mixtures. Collaborate with a lead in ATSDR's Geospatial Research, Analysis and Services Program (GRASP) focusing on the analysis of geographic health data, and a toxicologist within ATSDR who specializes in mixture toxicology methods.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Health Scientist: Provide environmental health expertise in the areas of human health risk assessment, toxicology, statistics and other technical areas to EPA project managers, States, the regulated community, and Federal agencies in the Superfund Program, which addresses the enforcement and cleanup of hazardous waste sites.