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Julia E. Rager, PhD, MSEE


Research Interests

Our research lab aims to examine relationships between exposures to chemicals present in the environment and human health outcomes. Our approach is unique in that it bridges ‘wet lab’ molecular biology and toxicology methods with ‘dry lab’ approaches based on advanced bioinformatics. Our ongoing research encompasses various mixture exposure conditions, target organs, and disease outcomes. Exposures include inhalation exposures to atmospheric mixtures, wildfire smoke, and e-cigarette mixtures impacting the respiratory system. Other exposures include drinking water contaminants impacting the liver and consumer product chemicals impacting breast cancer risk. Research findings are translated into the context of risk assessment, with the ultimate goal of improving chemical safety assessments to better protect public health. The Rager Lab is excited to provide bioinformatics support for several ongoing CEMALB research teams.


Current Lab Personnel

Alexis Payton, CEMALB Data Analyst


Celeste Carberry, PhD Candidate Graduate Research Assistant


Lauren Koval, PhD Candidate Graduate Research Assistant


Elena McDermott, MSPH Candidate Graduate Research Assistant


Deepak Keshava, Undergraduate Research Assistant


Toby Turla, Undergraduate Research Assistant


Previous Lab Personnel

· Alexis Payton, Undergraduate Honors / BSPH and MS

· Celeste Carberry, Undergraduate Honors / BSPH



Dr. Rager’s Professional Background

· BS, University of Texas at Austin, 2008

· MSEE, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2010

· PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013

· Post-Doctoral Associate, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2014-2015

· Toxicology Consultant, ToxStrategies, Inc., 2015-2018

· Joined UNC in 2018

· Joined CEMALB in 2021



Dr. Rager’s Affiliations

· Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering (ENVR)

· Institute for Environmental Health Solutions (IEHS)

· UNC Superfund Research Program (UNC-SRP)

· Center for Environmental Medicine and Lung Biology (CEMALB)

· Curriculum in Toxicology & Environmental Medicine (CiTEM)


This list consists of select publications relevant to ongoing CEMALB research. To see a complete list of Dr. Julia Rager’s publications click here.



++Senior Authorship; *Trainee within the Rager laboratory; #Data analyst within the Rager laboratory

  1. Carberry CK*, Keshava D*, Payton A*, Smith GJ, Rager JE++. Approaches to Incorporate Extracellular Vesicles into Exposure Science, Toxicology, and Public Health Research. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2022. Accepted, in press.
  2. Clark J, Avula V, Ring C, Eaves LA, Howard T, Santos HP, Smeester L, Bangma JT, O’Shea TM, Fry RC, Rager JE++. Comparing the Predictivity of Human Placental Gene, microRNA, and CpG Methylation Signatures in Relation to Perinatal Outcomes. Toxicol Sci. 2021 Sep 28;183(2):269-284. PMID: 34255065; PMCID: PMC8478332.
  3. Chang Y, Rager JE, Tilton SC. Linking Coregulated Gene Modules with Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon-Related Cancer Risk in the 3D Human Bronchial Epithelium. Chem Res Toxicol. 2021 Jun 21;34(6):1445-1455. PMID: 34048650; PMCID: PMC8560124.
  4. Ring C, Sipes NS, Hsieh JH, Carberry C*, Koval LE*, Klaren WD, Harris MA, Auerbach SS, Rager JE++. Predictive modeling of biological responses in the rat liver using in vitro Tox21 bioactivity: Benefits from high-throughput toxicokinetics. Comput Toxicol. 2021 May;18:100166. PMID: 34013136; PMCID: PMC8130852.
  5. Rager JE, Clark J, Eaves LA, Avula V, Niehoff NM, Kim YH, Jaspers I, Gilmour MI. Mixtures modeling identifies chemical inducers versus repressors of toxicity associated with wildfire smoke. Sci Total Environ. 2021 Jun 25;775:145759. PMID: 33611182. PMCID: PMC8243846.
  6. Eaves LA, Nguyen HT, Rager JE, Sexton KG, Howard T, Smeester L, Freedman AN, Aagaard KM, Shope C, Lefer B, Flynn JH, Erickson MH, Fry RC, Vizuete W. Identifying the transcriptional response of cancer and inflammation-related genes in lung cells in relation to ambient air chemical mixtures. Environ Sci Technol. 2020 Nov 3;54(21):13807-13816. PMID: 33064461. PMCID: PMC7757424.
  7. Gomez JL, Chen A, Diaz MP, Zirn N, Gupta A, Britto C, Sauler M, Yan X, Stewart E, Santerian K, Grant N, Liu Q, Fry R, Rager J, Cohn L, Alexis N, Chupp GL. A Network of Sputum MicroRNAs is Associated with Neutrophilic Airway Inflammation in Asthma. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2020 Jul 1;202(1):51-64. PMID: 32255668. PMCID: PMC7328332.
  8. Zavala J, Freedman A, Jaspers I, Wambaugh JF, Higuchi M, Rager JE++. New Approach Methods to Evaluate Health Risks of Air Pollutants: Critical Design Criteria for In Vitro Exposure Testing. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Mar 23;17(6). PMID: 32210027. PMCID: PMC7143849.
  9. Rager JE, Carberry C*, Fry RC. Use of genome editing tools in environmental health research. Current Opinion in Toxicology. 2019 Dec;18:13-17. PMID: 31656878. PMCID: PMC6814161.
  10. Fry RC, Bangma J, Szilagyia J, Rager JE++. Developing novel in vitro methods for the risk assessment of developmental and placental toxicants in the environment. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2019 Sep 1;378:114635. PMID: 31233757. PMCID: PMC6684208.
  11. Wikoff D, Rager JE, Chappell GA, Fitch S, Haws L, Borghoff S. A framework for systematic evaluation and quantitative integration of mechanistic data in assessments of potential human carcinogens. Toxicol Sci. 2019 Feb 1;167(2):322-335. PMID: 30423162.
  12. Rager JE, Suh M, Chappell GA, Thompson CM, Proctor DM. Review of Transcriptomic Responses to Hexavalent Chromium Exposure in Lung Cells Supports a Role of Epigenetic Mediators in Carcinogenesis. Toxicol Lett. 2019 Jan 25. pii: S0378-4274(19)30012-8. PMID: 30690063.
  13. Klaren WD, Ring C, Thompson CM, Borghoff S, Harris MA, Sipes NS, Hsieh J, Auerbach SS, Rager JE++. Identifying attributes that influence in vitro-to-in vivo concordance by comparing in vitro Tox21 bioactivity versus in vivo DrugMatrix transcriptomic responses across 130 chemicals. Toxicol Sci. 2019 Jan 1; 167(1):157-171. PMID: 30202884. PMCID: PMC6317427.
  14. Chappell GA, Rager JE++. Epigenetics in chemical-induced genotoxic carcinogenesis. Current Opinion in Toxicology. 2017 Oct;6:10-17.
  15. Rager JE, Strynar MJ, Liang S, McMahen RL, Richard AM, Grulke CM, Wambaugh JF, Isaacs KK, Judson R, Williams AJ, Sobus JR. Linking high resolution mass spectrometry data with exposure and toxicity forecasts to advance high-throughput environmental monitoring. Environ Int. 2016 Mar;88:269-80. PMID: 26812473.
  16. Fry RC, Rager JE, Bauer RN, Sebastian E, Peden DB, Jaspers I, Alexis NE. Air toxics and epigenetic effects: Ozone altered microRNAs in the sputum of human subjects. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2014 Jun 15;306(12):L1129-37. PMID: 24771714. PMCID: PMC4060009.
  17. Rager JE, Moeller BC, Miller SK, Kracko D, Doyle-Eisele M, Swenberg JA, Fry RC. Formaldehyde-associated changes in microRNAs: tissue and temporal specificity in the rat nose, white blood cells, and bone marrow. Toxicol Sci. 2014 Mar;138(1):36-46. PMID: 24304932. PMCID: PMC3930361.
  18. Rager JE, Bauer R, Muller LL, Smeester L, Carson JL, Brighton LE, Fry RC, Jaspers I. DNA methylation in nasal epithelial cells from smokers: identification of ULBP3-related effects. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2013 Sep;305(6):L432-8. PMID: 23831618. PMCID: PMC3763036.
  19. Rager JE, Moeller BC, Doyle-Eisele M, Kracko D, Swenberg JA, Fry RC. Formaldehyde and epigenetic alterations: microRNA changes in the nasal epithelium of nonhuman primates. Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Mar; 121(3):339-44. PMID: 23322811. PMCID: PMC3621188.
  20. Swenberg JA, Moeller BC, Lu K, Rager JE, Fry RC, Starr TB. Formaldehyde carcinogenicity research: 30 years and counting for mode of action, epidemiology, and cancer risk assessment. Toxicol Pathol. 2013 Feb;41(2):181-9. PMID: 23160431. PMCID: PMC3893912.
  21. Bauer RN, Brighton LE, Mueller L, Xiang Z, Rager JE, Fry RC, Peden DB, Jaspers I. Influenza enhances caspase-1 in bronchial epithelial cells from asthmatic volunteers and is associated with pathogenesis. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2012 Oct;130(4):958-967.e14. PMID: 23021143. PMCID: PMC3470476.
  22. Fry RC, Rager JE, Zhou H, Zou B, Brickey JW, Ting J, Lay JC, Peden DB, Alexis NE. Individuals with increased inflammatory response to ozone demonstrate muted signaling of immune cell trafficking pathways. Respir Res. 2012 Oct 3;13(1):89. PMID: 23033980. PMCID: PMC3607990.
  23. Hernandez M, Brickey WJ, Alexis NE, Fry RC, Rager JE, Zhou B, Ting JP, Zhou H, Peden DB. Airway cells from atopic asthmatic patients exposed to ozone display an enhanced innate immune gene profile. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2012 Jan;129(1):259-61.e1-2. PMID: 22196529. PMCID: PMC3254026.
  24. Rager JE, Lichtveld K, Ebersviller S, Smeester L, Jaspers I, Sexton KG, Fry RC. A toxicogenomic comparison of primary and photochemically altered air pollutant mixtures. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Nov;119(11):1583- 9. PMID: 21757418. PMCID: PMC3226493.

Rager JE, Smeester L, Jaspers I, Sexton KG, Fry RC. Epigenetic changes induced by air toxics: formaldehyde exposure alters miRNA expression profiles in human lung cells. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Apr;119(4):494- 500. PMID: 23322811. PMCID: PMC3080931.