Urban and Environmental Health

The Center for Urban Responses to Environmental Stressors (CURES) (P30 ES020957) is an NIEHS-funded environmental health sciences core center headquartered on the Wayne State University (WSU) campus. The CURES Urban and Environmental health sciences option provides committed medical students with a mentored experience in translational, mechanistic, or population-based environmental health science research. The CURES team aims to understand and mitigate the adverse health impacts of exposures to chemical and non-chemical stressors in a complex urban environment. CURES recognizes that each urban neighborhood has a unique combination of geographic (e.g., locale relative to pollution sources), historic (e.g., land use, age and condition of housing stock), and demographic (e.g., socioeconomics, race, ethnicity, age) characteristics that together create the spectrum of environmental risk and injustice that result in disparities in the development of adverse health outcomes, such as preterm birth, cancer, and diabetes. CURES researchers believe that a community-engaged, transdisciplinary team-science approach is essential to address the major environmental health problems. Students who are interested in environmental health sciences research should identify a scholarly mentor from the CURES faculty roster. The mentor should be a faculty member at WSU, Henry Ford Health System, or affiliated institution. The scholarly project is expected to be longitudinal across the student's curriculum. The mentor along with the student will be expected to develop an individualized project, establish a time line for completion as well as expectations for the final product. This mentored experience will enhance the student's ability to formulate a hypothesis, analyze scientific literature, gain skills in research design, and develop a deeper understanding of statistical methodologies, data transparency, data visualization approaches and "big data" analysis. The goal is to develop a new generation of physicians who are equipped to serve as the vanguard of environmental disease prevention and environmental health equity in our urban community.

Area Director

Melissa Runge-Morris, M.D.

Dr. Runge-Morris' primary research program is dedicated to understanding the molecular mechanisms that regulate the expression of the sulfotransferase multigene family. The cytosolic sulfotransferase conjugating enzymes are vitally important to drug metabolism. These enzymes detoxify many xenobiotic and endogenous substrates by forming more polar products that are amenable to excretion and elimination from the body. However, if the sulfated conjugate is unstable, loss of the labile sulfate group can create highly reactive electrophiles that may damage cellular macromolecules such as DNA. Many of the sulfotransferases in liver and other tissues, have been implicated in the bioactivation of environmental carcinogens. In addition to these important biological functions, the sulfotransferases also modulate intra-tissue hormone activity. Because sulfated hormones generally are receptor inactive, induction of sulfotransferase gene expression can reduce the levels of bioactive steroid hormone that are available to bind to cellular receptors. In human pathology, the sulfotransferases are in a prime position to influence the development and progression of hormone responsive tumors such as breast and prostate cancer.

Dr. Runge-Morris' laboratory is currently investigating the key transcription factor and cis-acting response elements that are responsible for regulating changes in sulfotransferase gene transcription. Recently, her research group reported that glucocorticoid hormones and xenobiotics such as 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and phenobarbital produce differential effects on the mRNA expression of individual sulfotransferase isoforms in rat liver and in primary cultured rat hepatocytes. As an overall research objective, Dr. Runge-Morris maintains that identifying and characterizing the factors that control gene expression during critical periods of development and aging will lead to new insights on disease mechanisms in humans.