Texas A&M Postdoc Receives NIH Grant For Toxicology Research
Story by Megan Myers, VMBS Communications
Dr. Meichen Wang, a postdoctoral trainee in Texas A&M University’s Interdisciplinary Faculty of Toxicology, has been awarded a nearly $1 million career development grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Wang’s grant, an NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00), will provide support for her work developing new, edible therapies for people who have ingested per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals.”
PFAS are found in many industry and consumer products and can be released from landfills, industrial sites, and wastewater treatment plants, especially if these locations are impacted by natural or human-made disasters.
These long-lasting chemicals can take many decades to break down, which has led to their prevalence in the environment, including our food and water supplies. As a result, PFAS can be found in 99% of human blood samples in the United States.
Wang’s research will focus on creating edible sorbents, consisting of naturally occurring clays that are generally recognized as safe for human consumption, that have the ability to reduce PFAS bioavailability and toxicity in humans.
“I’m thrilled and humbled to receive this award,” Wang said. “I’m grateful to everyone who helped me and put trust in me, especially my mentor Dr. (Timothy) Phillips for his unconditional support. My goal is to discover therapeutic sorbents that can be applied to protect vulnerable populations from exposures to hazardous environmental chemicals.”
She plans to test sorbent efficacy against six representative PFAS using several different methods, including adsorption/desorption isothermal analysis and computational simulations. She will then conduct safety and efficacy studies to determine sorbents’ ability to reduce PFAS bioavailability without interfering with nutrient absorption.
By the end of the five-year grant period, Wang expects to have developed therapeutic sorbents that can be easily delivered orally to first responders and vulnerable populations who are exposed to high levels of PFAS through diet and drinking water.
Her work will be conducted under the mentorship of Phillips, a University Distinguished Professor at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Co-mentors on her grant include Dr. Natalie Johnson, from the School of Public Health, and Dr. Phanourios Tamamis from the College of Engineering.
“[Meichen] is truly deserving of this wonderful award from NIEHS and will do marvelous work on her path to academic independence,” Phillips said. “I have directly observed her diligence and hard work, her passion for science, her creativity, and her high impact achievement in research.
“Meichen always strives to be a positive role model for the future generation, particularly young women in underserved communities,” he said. “I would rank her at the top of the very best that I have mentored over the last 43 years. Her past performances are clearly harbingers of a very bright future as an environmental toxicologist. ”
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