Environmental Factor – April 2022: Fellows explain research in plain language – in three minutes or less

Communicating research effectively with non-scientific audiences is challenging and takes practice. For the past seven years, the NIEHS Office of Fellows’ Career Development (OFCD) has sponsored a competition that gives early career researchers the opportunity to explain their science in plain language, in just three minutes.

This year’s event, held on March 10, was titled “Big Picture, Small Talk: Environmental Health and Science for a General Audience,” and included presentations by 10 NIEHS Fellows. The three winners, listed below, will receive $1,500 to travel to a scientific conference or for further education.

  • Ayland Letsinger, Ph.D.an Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) postdoctoral fellow in the Neurobiology Lab, mentored by Jerry Yakel, Ph.D. Letsinger aims to find out why people like — or don’t like — physical activity.
  • Ciro Amato, Ph.D.IRTA postdoctoral fellow at the Reproduction and Developmental Biology Laboratory, supervised by Humphrey Yao, Ph.D. Amato studies the biological mechanisms involved in a congenital anomaly called hypospadias.
  • Paige Bommarito, Ph.D.IRTA postdoctoral fellow in the epidemiology branch, supervised by Kelly Ferguson, Ph.D. Bommarito studies the causes and effects of fetal growth restriction.
Your Big Picture 2022 winners, Small Talk, clockwise from top: Bommarito, Amato and Letsinger. Each excelled in their three-minute presentations. (Photo courtesy of Tammy Collins/NIEHS)

“It is clearly becoming increasingly important to be able to communicate with the general public so that they understand the importance of the scientific research that we carry out and why we do it,” the OFCD director said. , Tammy Collins, Ph.D. “This annual challenge encourages NIEHS fellows to step out of their day-to-day settings and really think about their work in the larger framework of how it can benefit society and how to articulate that to the people.”

Get off the couch

Letsinger, the top voter in the contest, studies why people like or dislike physical activity. He noted that there is a critical need to improve extremely low levels of physical activity.

“My goal is to find out why an organism may choose to engage in physical activity by measuring sub-second fluctuations of neurotransmitters in mouse brains during wheel operation,” Letsinger explained.

“Once characterized, we may be able to increase physical activity levels by modulating the function of these neurotransmitters through nutritional or pharmaceutical interventions,” he added.

Focus on a common birth defect

Amato studies a birth defect called hypospadias, which is a malformation of the penis where the urethra does not form at the tip but rather somewhere along the shaft. About 1% of boys are born with hypospadias.

“What’s really concerning is that the incidence has almost doubled in the last 60 years,” he said. “We believe this is largely due to environmental contaminants such as pesticides and plastics that are ingested by the mother,” Amato noted.

“My research aims to understand how the normal penis develops so that we can make more and better hypotheses about what causes hypospadias,” he said.

“So what I’m doing now is looking at how penile cells communicate, and I’m identifying new factors that potentially contribute to hypospadias in humans,” Amato added. “I plan to study how things like plastics and pesticides can disrupt normal communication between different cell populations.”

Baby Growth Trajectories

Bommarito’s presentation focused on his work to build clinicians’ ability to identify fetal growth restriction. It is a birth result that increases the risk of health complications, including infant death.

“One of my goals is to use new statistical methods to help us better distinguish babies who really have a birth restriction from those who are perfectly healthy but just a little small,” she said. declared.

“I found that babies who have the smallest growth trajectories in mid to late pregnancy are at greater risk than other babies, regardless of their birth weight,” Bommarito noted.

“This work will have a broad impact on both research and clinical settings, as our ability to understand and ultimately prevent the effects of growth restriction is as good as our ability to diagnose it.” she adds.

(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

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