UC Davis faculty members Irva Hertz-Picciotto and Andreas Baumler have been selected to receive the 2013 UC Davis School of Medicine Research Award.
Hertz-Picciotto is chief of the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health in the Department of Public Health Sciences. Baumler is professor and vice chair of research for the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology.
The award is given annually to a member of the school in recognition of outstanding contributions to biomedical science and medicine through laboratory or clinical research. Hertz-Picciotto and Baumler each will receive a stipend of $175 and $7,500 for support of a research fellow.
Hertz-Picciotto is one of the world’s leading researchers into environmental exposures and perinatal and neurodevelopmental outcomes and on methodological issues in epidemiology. Her transformational research has addressed the effects of lead, arsenic, mercury, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and air pollution on pregnancy outcomes and on early child development. Hertz-Picciotto’s research is focused primarily on autism and cognitive impairment.
Through her role as the deputy director of the UC Davis Children’s Center for Environmental Health, she serves as principal investigator for several leading National Institutes of Health-funded studies, including three major investigations of autism. These include the Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment, or CHARGE study; the Markers of Autism Risk in Babies — Learning Early Signs or MARBLES study; and the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation (EARLI) study, for which she is co-principal investigator.
She also directs the Northern California Center for the National Children’s Study, the nation’s largest examination of environmental factors that may cause or contribute to asthma, autism, diabetes and problems with weight, attention, and learning in children of all ages.
Baumler is an internationally acclaimed expert in the field of bacterial pathogenesis whose work has focused on unraveling the complex interplay between bacteria and immune system components in the human gastrointestinal tract.
In 2013, he published two major research studies that advanced understanding of irritable bowel disease — a group of disorders that includes colitis and Crohn’s disease that affects 1.4 million people in the U.S. — and detailed how the innate immune system distinguishes between dangerous pathogens and friendly microbes. Both studies are important because they will help guide the development of new and better treatments for inflammatory diseases, from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to arthritis and sepsis.
IBD occurs when “good” bacteria are mistakenly killed by the immune system, while harmful bacteria multiply — resulting in inflammation and damage to the intestines, and chronic episodes of abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea and other changes in bowel habits. Baumler’s research team found that nitrate — a byproduct formed during the intestinal inflammation in IBD — allows the “bad” bacteria to grow and thrive.
For the second study, Baumler’s team discovered the pathway that allows the human body to distinguish between pathogenic and beneficial bacteria in the gut. The researchers found that bacterial invasion of a cell activates a protein that sends an alarm that ultimately reaches other proteins and transcription factors to mount an immune response. By understanding the pathways that activate inflammation, scientists and clinicians can develop ways to inhibit it.
Baumler has published 100 primary research articles and 36 review articles, letters and commentaries in peer-reviewed journals and 19 book chapters.