LCOM & Department News

Shukla Research Highlights How Asbestos Causes Lung Disease Mesothelioma

March 27, 2018 by Jennifer Nachbur

Arti Shukla, Ph.D., and lab team members Maximilian MacPherson and Phillip Munson.

Asbestos exposure is widely known to cause human disease, including the deadly cancer mesothelioma – although researchers aren’t sure why. While asbestos is inhaled into the lungs, mesothelioma develops in physically remote mesothelial cells. No successful methods exist for early detection of exposure to asbestos. New research published online in The FASEB Journal, however, may have unlocked the first piece of this puzzle. 

“Our findings suggest that cells in one region of the body are capable of sending messages to cells in a distant location, and can cause significant genetic changes,” said Arti Shukla, Ph.D., associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine and a UVM Cancer Center member. “This communication from injured or diseased cells to healthy cells has the potential to initiate changes that might lead to cancer or other diseases.” 

To conduct the experiment, Shukla and colleagues used two groups of cells known to be the first to encounter asbestos fibers once inhaled: lung epithelial cells and macrophages. The researchers split these cells into one group that was exposed to asbestos, and another that served as a control group and was left to grow normally. The team let the cells grow in these conditions for three days, then collected the exosomes released by the cells. 

First, the researchers examined the proteins inside the exosomes, discovering that the asbestos-exposed group had significant increases in many proteins of interest. Second, they added the exosomes to healthy mesothelial cells (which eventually can become mesothelioma cancer cells) and assessed gene changes after four days. They found that the exosomes from asbestos-exposed cells caused dramatic changes to many cancer-related genes in mesothelial cells. 

These findings have implications for how asbestos exposure may cause cancer by sending exosomes that detrimentally alter the genetics of cells. The study also points to the remarkable potential of these exosomes and the proteins they contain to act as biomarkers, indicating the development or progression of asbestos-related disease. 

“These intriguing findings go a good ways toward explaining the conundrum of how a pulmonary irritant triggers distant effects,” said Thoru Pederson, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal. “They also add to the burgeoning array of studies that link exosome-based communication to pathogenic events.”

This research was supported financially by the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health.

(This article was adapted from a press release produced by Todd Bentsen, Director of Communications, FASEB.)

Department Highlights

Dr. Debra Leonard, M.D., Ph. D., our department chairand the Genomic Medicine Team announce the start of the Genomic Population Health Initiative. A pilot project offering Genomic DNA Testing is now underway within the University of Vermont Health Network. Read more here... (2019)

Dr. William Pendlebury, M.D., professor emeritus of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, has been selected to receive the 2019 Vermont Medical Society’s (VMS) Founders’ Award. The award recognizes Pendlebury’s leadership role and advocacy in “the fight for the diagnosis and treatment of dementia in Vermont for the past 35 years.” He will receive the award November 2 at the VMS 206th Annual Meeting in Stowe, Vt.(2019)

Yvone Janssen-Heininger, Ph.D., Jos van der Velden, Ph.D. (both Pathology & Laboratory Medicine faculty) and senior author, Charles Irvin, Ph.D. (Medicine), published "The Effect of Flavored E-cigarettes on Murine Allergic Airways Disease" in Nature Scientific Reports. The study has been cited in stories by several news outlets: U.S. News & World Report/HealthDay; American Journal of Managed Care; Medical News Bulletin; and Medical Daily. (2019)

Dr. Mark Fung, M.D, Ph.D., professor and vice chair for Population Health, was recently named to the board of directors for the Project Santa Fe Foundation, which “focuses on demonstrating the power of longitudinal clinical laboratory data to proactively augment population health in a value-based healthcare environment.” (2019)

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Dr. Bronwyn Bryant, M.D. was named a 2019 Frymoyer Scholar for her project, “Validating Entrustable Professional Activity-Based Assessment to Determine On-Call Competency in Pathology Residents”. (2019)

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Dr. Rebecca Wilcox, M.DDr. Rebecca Wilcox, M.D. was selected, by the Larner College of Medicine Class of 2019, to be the commencement keynote speaker. Read more... [Photo credit: Andy Duback 2019] (2019)

Please join Dr. Yvonne Janssen-Heininger in congratulating Allison Manuel and Evan Elko

Dr. Allison Manuel is a post-doctoral fellow in our group.  Her abstract to be presented at the American Thoracic Society conference was chosen to receive an Abstract Scholarship . The scholarship includes a full In-Training Registration to the 2019 ATS International Conference in Dallas, Texas.  

Evan Elko is a PhD student. He just received notice that his F31 NIH application entitled: “Role of peroxiredoxin-4 in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis”  will be funded.

Congratulations to Evan and Allison.

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Department alumni, Dr. Bobbi Pritt, M.D. featured in Vermont Medicine Magazine. To read her story click on the photo below.

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Dr's Leonard and HuberA Remarkable Gift from Dr. Sally Huber, Ph.D.

At the end of last week's Research Day, Dr. Leonard gave a surprise announcement: a very generous bequethment of $5 million by research faculty emerita, Dr. Sally Huber! The funds will go toward two endowed professorships for junior investigators in our department. The endowments will be named for her parents, Elmer R. Huber and Blodwen S. Huber, and will support junior research faculty for five years.(9/2018)

This amazing support will allow junior faculty time and funds to gain independence while pursuing the milestone achievement of being awarded their first R01 grant.

Heintz Awarded 2018 Distinguised Graduate Alumni Award

Dr. Nick Heintz, Ph.D. received the 2018 UVM Medical Alumni Association’s Distinguished Graduate Alumni Award​, which is presented to Larner College of Medicine (LCOM) alumni who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in basic, clinical or applied research; education; industry; public service/humanitarianism; and/or outstanding commitment to the LCOM community.

He accepted his award at the college's Celebrating Research Excellence event at the end of October. (September 2018)

Kida Received Certificate of Commendation

Dr. Kida receives award from the State of Vermont...read more here. (August 2018)

Leonard and Committee Publish Through National Academies Press

Dr. Debra Leonard, along with a committee under the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, ​published "Returning Individual Research Results to Participants: Guidance for a New Research Paradigm" through The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2018 (Committee Member). (August 2018)

Excellence in Education

The Larner College of Medicine’s second year medical students nominate and elect faculty who they want to recognize for their outstanding teaching and support over their first years of the Foundations education. (February 2018)

Pathology nominees (winners in bold):

AMWA Gender Equity Award  - Pamela Gibson; Sharon Mount; Rebecca Wilcox

Dean Warhsaw Integration Award - Rebecca Wilcox

Silver Stethoscope Award - Scott Andreson; Maureen Harmon; John Lunde

Above and Beyond Award - Ronald Bryant; Rebecca Wilcox

Foundations Course Director Award -Rebecca Wilcox

Outstanding Foundations Course Award

  • Cardiovascular, Respiratory & Renal Systems: (Ron Bryant; Kelly Butnor; and Pam Gibson are the primary pathologists in each section of the course, respectively)
  • Nutrition, Metabolism & the Gastrointestinal System: Course Director is Rebecca Wilcox

Foundations Teaching Award - Ronald Bryant; Pamela Gibson; Rebecca Wilcox; Christina Wojewoda

Dr. Yvonne Janssen-Heininger Receives Patent

Yvonne Janssen-Heinger was awarded a patent on the ​concept that strategies to inhibit GSTP has utility for the treatment of patients with pulmonary fibrosis. Congratulations, Yvonne! (January 2018)

Drs. Bronwyn Bryant and Phillip Munson inducted into the Teaching Academy

Last week Bronwyn and Phillip were inducted into University of Vermont's Teaching Academy. The Teaching Academy sustains and supports an interdisciplinary community of educators who value the scholarship of teaching and learning while facilitating educator development; improve the efficiency and quality of medical education through collaboration and scholarship; and promote an academic environment that increases the value and impact of educators locally, regionally, and nationally. (January 2018)