Interdisciplinary Research Initiatives


Major research grants supporting collaborations between the faculty in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and the School of Engineering have broadened opportunities for unique interdisciplinary research and educational ventures at Brown University. 

Kim Boekelheide, M.D., Ph.D.

Director, Superfund Research Program, Children's Environmental Health Project

Linda Covington

Manager, Superfund Research Program, Children's Environmental Health Project

Superfund Research Program - "Reuse in RI: A state-based approach to complex exposures"

The Superfund Research Program is an interdisciplinary research, educational, and outreach effort directed by Kim Boekelheide, M.D., Ph.D.  It focuses on mechanisms of disease and chemical and physical properties of mixed exposures encountered at toxic waste sites and Brownfields in Rhode Island. A major goal of this project is the development and application of basic remediation technologies and strategies for local and regional communities to facilitate the reuse of land and the reduction of chemical exposure. This integrated effort involves Brown University faculty and students, as well as state officials and community organizations. The federal grant provides a unique opportunity for collaboration across disciplies on challenging scientific and technical problems with a significant impact in Providence and throughout Rhode Island.

For more information, visit the Brown Superfund Research Program page.

Children's Environmental Health

Children's Environmental Health (CEH) is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental  Health Sciences.  The project incorporates multiple research institutions, and at Brown University, Kim Boekelheide, M.D., Ph.D, is the primary investigator.  The project addresses how the conditions a person experiences in the womb can have lifelong health effects.  Researchers work to identify new biomarkers – measurable biological indicators that can be used to link environmental exposures to particular health outcomes - using mouse models.  They also investigate how and why certain chemicals and toxic materials impair healthy organ function and find ways to detect and measure this damage early in development. The  primary environmental exposures studied include chemicals, such as arsenic, as well as endocrine disruptors, which can alter hormonal regulation in the body. Bisphenol A (BPA), estradiol, and genistein are among the endocrine disrupting chemicals under investigation.  Researchers are particularly interested in how exposure to the aforementioned chemicals affect liver and lund development in early childhood, as well as a predisposition to prostate cancer later in life.   

Researchers communicate the implications of their findings to health care practitioners, scientists and the public to inform efforts to prevent, detect or treat environmentally induced diseases.

Project 1: Liver and the Metabolic Syndrome                                                                                                               Project Leader: Philip  A. Gruppuso, M.D., Brown University
This project examines the effects of arsenic, a natural element that people can ingest through drinking water and other sources, on the development of the liver. It is based on the relationship between altered liver development and risk for metabolic syndrome (a group of factors that increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes) in the offspring of those exposed to arsenic. Researchers also compare arsenic exposure to other limitations such as the impact of dietary restrictions on the liver.

Project 2: Prostate and Endocrine Disruption                                                                                                             Project Leader: Kim Boekelheide, M.D.,  Ph.D., Brown University
Recent evidence suggests that exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the womb may interfere with a person’s hormonal system and could contribute to the development of prostate cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in men in the United States. Using mouse models, researchers at this Center are looking to evaluate possible developmental origins of prostate disease in later life associated with chemicals that are known to harm the endocrine (hormone) system and in this project are also looking to discover the underlying epigenetic mechanisms that control disease onset and progress.

Project 3: Lung, Arsenic Exposure, and Tissue Remodeling                                                                        Project Leader: Monique Depaepe,  M.D., Brown University
Some studies have shown that exposure to arsenic in the womb can cause problems with lung development in children and lead to respiratory diseases, lung cancer and even death in both children and adults. This project is developing models to determine the mechanisms of arsenic-induced disruption of lung tissue remodeling. The models developed are expected to help explain how arsenic causes respiratory disease, including asthma and lung cancer.

For more information, visit the Children's Environmental Health page.

Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology

New nanomaterials have been developed with unique properties related to size, surface area, and quantum mechanical effects. Quantum dots, carbon nanotubes, and fullerenes have widespread potential applicationProfessor and Department Chair, Dr. Agnes Kane, uses confocal fluorescence microscopy to visualize uptake of carbon nanotubules by target cells.Professor and Department Chair, Dr. Agnes Kane, uses confocal fluorescence microscopy to visualize uptake of carbon nanotubules by target cells.s in basic biomedical research, as well as diagnostic and therapeutic devices. Brown University has the resources and the facilities to create these materials at the nanoscale and then study them from biological, chemical, and engineering standpoints.

In addition, a core group of researchers in the Division of Biology and Medicine is exploring biocompatibility and potential toxicity of these nanomaterials. With recent funding from the National Science Foundation and the Superfund Basic Research Program, the faculty in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and in the School of Engineering are developing new interdisciplinary research projects and a new course for students in engineering and biology — Small Wonders: The Science, Technology, and Human Health Impacts of Nanomaterials. 

Click here to read the full article in Brown Medicine Magazine.

Particle-Based Dispersants for Remediation of Oil Spills

Megan Creighton, engineering graduate student, and April Rodd, pathobiology graduate student, are developing novel nanoparticle-based dispersants to adsorb hydrocarbons released during oil spills in the marine environment. This research is supported by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative funded by BP.











Collaborative Study on Male Infertility

"Boekelheide and Sigman created the Human Biomarker Project, which is funded by the Lifespan health care system and the Krishnamurthi endowment, to understand the molecular traits that may cause male infertility. "Identifying these biomarkers is a priority for anyone working on male infertility research," says Hwang, who came to Brown in 2011 to do research and clinical work."

-Feature Story, "The Origin of Man", Brown Medicine Magazine

Click here to read the feature article in Brown Medicine Magazine highlighting Dr. Kim Boekelheide's research project on male infertility.