Dr. Rebecca Sommer Wins NIH Funding for Arsenic Research Related to Obesity, Liver Disease & Hyperglycemia

Dr. Rebecca Sommers was recently awarded an NIH, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) for $419,048 for three years, 2010-2013. Titled, “Developmental Arsenic Exposure Causes Obesity, Liver Disease, and Hyperglycemia in Male Mice,” the project seeks to determine the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which developmental exposures to lower-levels of arsenic increase body weight, fatty-liver disease and symptoms consistent with type-2 diabetes in adult male mice while not causing the same effects in females.

Interestingly, developmental arsenic-exposure of female mice induces liver inflammation in adulthood and we’re trying to learn the mechanism of that as well. Sommer’s lab is currently using a combination of gene expression (quantitative-PCR), histological, and protein assay (Westerns, ELISAs) approaches to determine how developmental arsenic causes disease later in life.

If they can determine how these effects are caused in mice, it usually works a similar way in humans (but not always!), and they’ll be able to better understand the risks posed to people that are exposed to arsenic in their drinking water.

This is important in Maine, in that Maine has naturally occurring arsenic in its groundwater such that approximately 30% of the private drinking wells in Maine are estimated to have more than the current USEPA regulatory limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb).

Lastly, the grant will support the research activities of at least 4 students per year, including research stipends for 2-3 students to work full-time, 8-10 weeks each summer 2010-2013.