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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: 1R43ES031414-01
Agency Tracking Number: R43ES031414
Amount: $225,000.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: NIEHS
Solicitation Number: ES19-005
Solicitation Year: 2019
Award Year: 2020
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2020-01-23
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2020-12-31
Small Business Information
Portland, OR 97211-8052
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/Abstract
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), which is the goal of RFA-ES-19-005 (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. (Portland, OR) has
partnered with environmental and education scientists at Oregon Health andamp; Science University (OHSU)
(Portland, OR) and local undergraduate institutions to submit this proposal. We will use epigenetic science as
an education bridge to improve EHL because the basics of this science are relatively easy to understand and
the epigenome (the sum total of all epigenetic modifications) responds to environmental exposures in ways
that can improve or worsen health. Two complementary specific aims are proposed for this Phase 1
application, which will focus on undergraduate education. The first is to create interactive and gamified
software based on epigenetic science that undergraduate educators can use to teach students about
environmental health. The prototype mobile app will allow students to create scenarios in which identical twins
receive an unhealthy exposure in utero known to change epigenetic patterns and suspected to cause disease
later in life. The students will then choose different combinations of diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices for each
twin that are also known to change epigenetic patterns to attempt to counter over a virtual lifetime the negative
early life exposure. The students will be scored based on their choices with the ability to compare results with
classmates and students at other institutions. The second Aim will create a prototype laboratory kit focused on
epigenetic science that will provide fundamental information about environmental epigenetics. The kit will use a
simple epigenetic model system, the fungus Neurospora crassa. We will engineer a Neurospora strain with a
reporter gene that is epigenetically silenced by DNA methylation and sensitive to activation. Students will
choose different exposures and then measure activation and DNA methylation of the reporter gene. 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 lead to Phase II funding to complete these modules and modify and extend them to public
school students and the interactive software to the lay public and public health professionals.Project Narrative
Improving environmental health literacy (EHL) will lead to people making informed choices
resulting in better public health. Nzumbe has assembled an outstanding team of environmental
scientists and educators to develop innovative undergraduate educational tools based on
epigenetic science to improve EHL.

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

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