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Ilona Jaspers, PhD

The primary mission of the UNC Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology (CEMALB) is to improve understanding of the impact of environmental factors on human health, with the goal of generating knowledge to inform public policy decisions regarding pollution control and develop personal mitigation strategies for susceptible populations. We have enjoyed a long time collaborative partnership with the Environmental Public Health Division of the US EPA, and our collaborative studies have shown that oxidative stress, inflammation, and innate immunity contribute to the response to pollution, and this research has been used to support and revise the National Ambient Air Quality Standards outlined in the Clean Air Act. We are especially interested in lung disease and biology, as the respiratory tract is a principal portal by which air pollutants enter the body. Airway allergies (asthma, allergic rhinitis) are especially impacted by environmental agents.

Research Areas

More recently, we have moved into studies of the effect of pollution on airway infection, which is a primary health concern, and an important cause of exacerbations of asthma and other lung diseases. More recent observations have shown that systemic responses to inhaled pollutants are also important, as pollutants have been shown to cause cardiovascular effects. In addition to providing data to clarify the risk of exposure to air pollutants for regulatory efforts, we are undertaking studies of genetic and epigenetic regulators of pollutant response, and chemoprevention and pharmacologic intervention to prevent adverse responses to pollutants. CEMALB investigators, in conjunction with EPA investigators, have developed phase I and IIa programs focused on sulforaphane, gamma tocopherol, IL-1 receptor antagonist (anakinra), corticosteroids, and hypertonic saline as potential interventions to mitigate the effect of pollutants on airway inflammation.

Research Partners

In addition to EPA, we have collaborated with a number of researchers across the UNC system. We have had long time collaborations with the Cystic Fibrosis/Pulmonary Treatment and Research Center focused on the effect of smoking on lung disease, and other clinical and research groups focused on lung disease, are members of the Marsico Lung Institute. We have also partnered with the NIEHS, the Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility of the Gillings School of Public Health and the Department of Genetics in environmental genetics studies, the Jaycee Burn Center of the Department of Surgery and UNC Hospitals in studies of inhalational injury in burn patients, and the NSF funded Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (NERC) for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) based out of NC State University to develop and test wearable personal environmental and health monitors to be used for both research and clinical purposes. Our research is accomplished with funding from the US EPA, NIH, NSF, and foundation grants.

Training Opportunities

We are also the home of the UNC Curriculum in Toxicology (the UNC PhD granting program in toxicology) and have projects with graduate students from Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Microbiology and Immunology and Biostatistics, as well as clinical trainees in Allergy/Immunology, Pulmonology and Surgery. We have faculty from the Departments of Pediatrics, Medicine, Surgery, Microbiology/Immunology and Genetics.

Ilona Jaspers, PhD

Professor; Departments of Pediatrics, Microbiology & Immunology, and Env. Sci. & Engineering

Director; Curriculum in Toxicology & Environmental Medicine

Director; Center for Env. Med. Asthma & Lung Biology

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill