recognized for excellence in education and research on the environment, including human
impacts on environmental health, UM soon will begin to address the flip side of these
issues with the establishment of a new center for studies of environmental impacts on
The proposed Center for Environmental Health Sciences already has
received the necessary University approvals and been given the green light at two Board of
Regents meetings, with final action scheduled to take place in May.
The center will be housed in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the School of
Pharmacy and Allied Health Sciences. Andrij Holian, professor of medicine and director of
the toxicology program at the University of Texas Houston Health Science Center, has been
named director of the UM center and will join the faculty full time in June.
From satellite studies of global climate change to backyard water monitoring, UM
researchers already investigate and keep tabs on the health of the environment at all
levels, according to pharmaceutical sciences Chair Vernon Grund.
The new center will focus on environmental health from a human standpoint,
he says. What are the potential hazards out there and how do they impact us?
For instance, Grund says that many people have genes that make them predisposed to
develop some kind of cancer, but they dont because the genes have not been
triggered. Toxins in the environment, he says, can act as potential triggers, so genetic
studies will be an important component of the new center.
The center will provide a focal point for bringing together a critical mass of
researchers and students to investigate mechanisms of diseases such as asthma, lung
fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, autoimmune disorders, neurodegenerative
diseases, cancers and the impacts that environmental factors have in causing or
exacerbating these conditions.
The hope is that such studies will lead to new or better treatments, better assessment
of the actual risks caused by environmental agents, and improved methods to reduce adverse
health effects of these agents. The three main areas of research will be respiratory
diseases and immunotoxicology, neurotoxicology, and molecular and genetic toxicology.
The centers teaching efforts will focus on creating and supporting new programs
in the undergraduate and graduate curriculums and be responsible for creating a new
generation of talented investigators to continue these efforts.
My vision for the next five years is to bring on board 10 or more new faculty
members through national searches who will bring with them extensive experience in these
fields, Holian says. We want to serve as a resource for collaborations, inside
and outside UM, expertise, core facilities and teaching.
No other such center exists in Montana; the closest related environmental health center
is at the University of Washington in Seattle. Most support for UMs Center for
Environmental Health Sciences will come from external grants and federal appropriations.
One million dollars from the federal Department of Health and Human Services already
has been earmarked for the center, along with funds from the National Institute for
Environmental Health Sciences, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National
Science Foundations Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).
No new state tax dollars are expected to go toward center funding.
However, how quickly the center grows and is able to implement its research programs
will depend in part on the states commitment to matching EPSCoR funds, Grund says.