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Using epigenetic science to improve environmental health literacy

Award Information
Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
Branch: National Institutes of Health
Contract: 2R44ES031414-02
Agency Tracking Number: R44ES031414
Amount: $649,748.00
Phase: Phase II
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: R
Solicitation Number: ES21-008
Solicitation Year: 2021
Award Year: 2023
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2023-01-01
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2024-12-31
Small Business Information
3439 NE SANDY BLVD. #330
Portland, OR 97232-1959
United States
DUNS: 078667905
HUBZone Owned: No
Woman Owned: No
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: No
Principal Investigator
 (720) 883-2041
Business Contact
Phone: (503) 201-6797
Research Institution

Project Summary
NIEHS defines environmental health as “the field of science that studies how the environment influences
human health and disease”. The environment in this definition includes the natural environment, man-made
chemicals and structures that often pollute the natural environment, and our social interactions and lifestyle
choices. Because toxic environments are linked directly to human health and disease, a critical need exists to
educate the American population on this relationship to allow us to make informed choices about the amount of
risk we are willing to take. Stated differently, to improve public health we need to improve environmental health
literacy (EHL), the goal of RFA-ES-21-008 (Innovative Approaches for Improving Environmental Health
Literacy). The RFA requests collaborations between small businesses and environmental scientists “to develop
novel tools, activities, or materials to build EHL”. In response, Nzumbe Inc. has partnered with media experts
(SquishyMedia) environmental and education scientists at Oregon Health and Science University, Oregon State
University and local undergraduate institutions to submit this proposal. Our strategy is to use epigenetic
science as an education bridge to improve EHL because the basics of this science are relatively easy to
understand and the epigenome responds to environmental exposures in ways that can improve or worsen
health. To accomplish this goal, our SBIR Phase I and now our Phase II application focuses on developing two
“experiential” educational tools. The first tool, delivers interactive learning modules in an online software
application that utilizes “gamification” principles to teach users how the environment impacts our epigenome
and health as a consequence. Gamification offers a variety of benefits associated with learning outcomes,
including enhancing user-engagement, learning, and knowledge retention. Our software application will include
the “EpiMon” app, a stylized interactive game that will utilize the epigenetic principles that the student has
learned and apply them to fictional creatures (EpiMon) in a fictional world. The second tool, is an educational
laboratory kit that will emphasize and tie in principles taught with the software product. The lab kit utilizes a
simple and safe model organism, Neurospora crassa, to demonstrate basic epigenetic principles and how
environmental exposures can influence the epigenetic regulation of gene expression. While the kit will contain
control experiments to demonstrate these principles, it will also offer the students the ability to experiment with
growth conditions to determine their impact on epigenetic gene regulation. Unlike most laboratory kits in the
marketplace where the experimental outcome is pre-determined, the experiential approach of our kit puts the
keys in the hands of the student. Results will be reported to an accompanying software application module
where students can compare their results with classmates and other schools to identify exposures with
epigenetic activity. Successful completion of the proposed work will enable us to extend these tools to public
school students and the interactive software to the lay public and public health professionals at little to no cost.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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