CET Logo



Research Home

Collaborative Research Teams

CET membership draws upon four basic science and six clinical departments, all within close proximity to one another on the same UTMB campus.  The membership is comprised of investigators who maintain independent research programs, and investigators who are part of a Collaborative Research Team (CRT) and are engaged in multidisciplinary research endeavors.  The Collaborative Research Teams are designed to eliminate research ‘silos’, and promote team science.  Center membership is united by a common purpose to study research problems in the environmental health sciences consistent with the CET mission.  The CET assists these efforts by providing subsidized access to the IHSFC and the resources in several Facility Cores

CRTs represent a mechanism to integrate multidisciplinary investigators into teams to build research capacity.  Driven by the increasing sub-specialization of research fields and the need to solve complex research problems, interdisciplinary team science is an important vehicle for the advancement of translational research to produce meaningful health outcomes.  In 2012, the CET implemented the CRT framework to promote interdisciplinary and collaborative team science to support translational research, and provide a structure for mentored career development of junior investigators.  Organizationally, a CRT is led by an NIH-funded investigator and consists of an investigative group with expertise in the various areas needed to execute a complex environmental health research project.  CRTs typically vary in composition depending on the specific project or team goals, and contain a mixture of basic and clinical investigators, with support from biostatisticians, bioinformaticians and community engagement experts as needed.  The CRT composition is intended to be flexible and adapt as the team’s objectives evolve.  The inclusion of the different skill sets ensures that as projects evolve, new needs are preempted and hence planning is proactive rather than reactive.  The CRT leadership is self-selected, but must either involve an existing CET member, or someone who secures membership contingent upon satisfying membership criteria.  However, not every CRT investigator needs to be a CET member, since certain team members may not have a background in the environmental health sciences but bring critical expertise necessary to fulfill the CRT objectives.  The inclusion of non-CET members in CRTs can be used as a recruiting tool to identify and bring new investigators into the CET from outside the environmental health sciences field.
Existing CRTs

The CET currently supports four distinct CRTs. These are:

• The Environmental Determinants of Viral Bronchiolitis CRT focuses on viral infections caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in combination with second-hand tobacco smoke (SHTS), in modulating the inflammatory response in the lung.  Exposure to SHTS occurs in up to 60% of the infants with RSV bronchiolitis, and several epidemiologic studies have indeed shown that SHTS is a risk factor for the development of “severe” RSV infections.  This is of particular relevance since those “severe” RSV infections have been linked to the development of asthma.  Therefore, although the complex interplay between SHTS and respiratory viruses is not fully understood, it is likely the cause of increased viral replication, airway inflammation, and potential long-term lung morbidity.

• The Chronic Mucosal Inflammation CRT, which examines asthma as a chronic relapsing disease influenced by environmental exposures that increase oxidative stress.  A pathological hallmark of asthma is chronic mucosal injury and repair, producing dysfunction of the protective epithelial barrier.  In this setting, increased oxidative stress, coupled with release of extracellular matrix-associated growth factors, can stimulate epithelial cells to undergo an adaptive response that produces long-term transcriptional reprogramming.  This process results in type II epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a phenotypic switch of normal epithelial cells to lose apical polarity, express mesenchymal markers, become motile and remodel subepithelial matrix.  Type II EMT produces characteristic changes seen in severe, refractory asthma: myofibroblast expansion, epithelial trans-differentiation, and subepithelial fibrosis.  Currently much of the field of asthma research focuses on acute lung inflammatory models; however these approaches do not inform understanding or treatment of chronic asthma, and the potential development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  Thus, we contend a systematic approach using chronic inflammatory models is needed.

• The Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) CRT is developing biomarkers for early detection of HCC.  HCC is one of the most common malignancies worldwide, and contributes to an estimated 20,000 deaths in the United States annually.  Early detection of HCC provides a number of potentially curative treatment options, but unfortunately existing screening strategies are insensitivity, inaccuracy, and are risky and expensive.  The HCC CRT is developing serum biomarkers for early detection of HCC using serum proteomics.  More recently, the HCC CRT has also embarked on an assessment of environmental pollutants as potential risk factors for HCC.  Preliminary epidemiological studies investigated 253 pollutants and their correlation to HCC incidence rate in all Texas counties, where twenty out of the 253 pollutants were identified having a significant correlation with HCC incidence rate.

• The Severe Asthma CRT is focused on the defining the characteristics, elucidating the mechanisms, and optimizing the management of patients with asthma, particularly those with severe asthma.  Patients with severe asthma typically have definable, recognizable environmental exposures—typically allergens—that drive exacerbations of disease.  Severe asthma is an important subset of asthma, and this CRT integrates awareness and understanding of environmental factors that drive the severe asthma phenotype.  The severe asthma CRT measured cytokine values in bronchoalveolar lavage samples of the lower respiratory tract obtained from asthma patients.  The analysis helped to identify three clusters of patients which had a complex but understandable interaction with three clusters of cytokines, leading to insights for a state-based classification of asthma patients.  These results suggest the need to define a molecular-based classification of asthma patients, which could improve the diagnosis and treatment of this disease.


NIEHS Toxicology Training Grant

Pre- and Post-doctoral Education in Environmental Toxicology. The NIEHS has aided research and training in Toxicology at UTMB since 1990 with a Training Grant in Molecular Mechanisms for Environmental Injury (T32 ES07254).  This mechanism supports several graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in laboratories engaged in environmental health science research, and provide a relevant curriculum, training and foundational opportunities for a career in environmental toxicology.  Resources provided by the CET greatly enhance the research and educational opportunities and the intellectual climate for the trainees associated with current Training Program preceptors who are CET investigators.

A major goal of the interdisciplinary NIEHS Training Program is to prepare trainees for independent careers in research, teaching, or the application of toxicology information to areas such as risk assessment and our legal system.  Professional development of all pre-doctoral and post-doctoral toxicology trainees is fostered in the following ways: 1) by facilitating access to core laboratories and other resources of the CET; 2) by providing regular opportunities to meet in small groups with visiting seminar speakers; 3) by helping trainees prepare presentations of their research in oral platform or poster formats; 4) by providing guidance in the formulation and preparation of applications for individual fellowship and Pilot Project research funds; 5) by encouraging their participation in the development of mini-courses and in the organization of regional scientific meetings; and 6) by providing trainees with experience in mentoring undergraduate students who conduct research projects in the laboratories of Training Program preceptors as part of our Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP).

Name Degree  Title at Institution  Department 
Abdel-Rahman, Sherif  Ph.D. Associate Professor  Ob-Gyn Maternal Fetal Medicine 
Amerdes, Bill  Ph.D.  Professor  Internal Medicine 
Ansari, G.A. Shakeel  Ph.D. Professor  Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Pathology 
*Bao, Xiaoyong Ph.D.  Associate Professor  Pediatrics 
Boldogh, Istvan  Ph.D. Professor  Microbiology and Immuology 
Boor, Paul  M.D. Professor   Pathology
Brasier, Allan  M.D.  Professor  Internal Medicine, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Calhoun, William  M.D./Ph.D.  Professor  Internal Medicine
Casola, Antonella  M.D.  Associate Professor   Pediatric Infectious Disease
*Choudhary, Sanjeev  Ph.D.  Associate Professor  Internal Medicine
*Cicalese, Luca  M.D.  Professor  Surgery
Croisant, Sharon Ph.D.   Associate Professor  Preventive Medicine and Community Health
*Dineley, Kelly  Ph.D. Associate Professor  Neurology 
Elferink, Cornelis  Ph.D. Professor  Pharmacology and Toxicology 
*Elferink, Lisa Ph.D.  Professor  Neuroscience and Cell Biology 
Garofalo, Roberto M.D.  Professor  Pediatrics, Microbiology and Immunology 
*Geisbert, Thomas  Ph.D.  Professor Microbiology and Immunology 
Goldblum, Randall M.D.   Professor  Pediatrics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Hazra, Tapas  Ph.D.  Professor  Internal Medicine
Hodge, Richard  Ph.D.  Scientist  Sealy Center for Environmental Health and Medicine
*Iwahara, Junji  Ph.D.  Associate Professor  Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Kaphalia, Bhupendra  Ph.D.  Professor  Pathology
Khan, Firoze  Ph.D.  Professor Pathology
*Kumar, Satish  Ph.D.  Assistant Professor  Obstertics and Gynecolgy
*Laezza, Fernanda  M.D./Ph.D.  Associate Professor Pharmacology and Toxicology
*Midoro-Horiuti, Terumi  M.D./Ph.D.  Associate Professor Pediatrics 
Prakash, Louise  Ph.D.  Professor  Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Prakash, Satya  Ph.D.  Professor  Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
*Prochaska, John  Ph.D.  Assistant Professor  Preventive Medicine and Community Health
*Sarkar, Partha  Ph.D.  Assistant Professor  Neurology
Sowers, Lawrence  Ph.D.  Professor Pharmacology and Toxicology
*Sarna, Sushil  Ph.D.  Professor  Internal Medicine
*Spratt, Heidi  Ph.D.  Associate Professor  Preventive Medicine and Community Health
Srivastava, Satish  Ph.D.  Professor  Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Sur, Sanjiv  Ph.D.  Professor  Internal Medicine, Pediatrics
*Szabo, Csabo  Ph.D.  Professor Anesthesiology 
*Szczesny, Bartosz  Ph.D.  Associate Professor  Anesthesiology
*Tian, Bing  Ph.D,  Assistant Professor  Internal Medicine
*Yang, Jun  Ph.D.  Instructor  Internal Medicine