September 14, 2018
The National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), one of the National Institutes of Health, have announced that the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) will receive funding to continue operating the Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health (WHCOHH). The five-year, $6.9 million award is part of a collaborative effort between NSF and NIEHS that includes three centers and four projects aimed at improving public health by investigating the many ways oceanic processes affect the distribution and persistence of human pathogens or the products of toxin-producing algae.
“These projects bring together scientists doing basic research on the oceans and Great Lakes with those in biology and human health to study processes that affect millions of people,” said Hedy Edmonds, a program director in NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences, which co-funded the awards.
“These grants will allow us to better understand the public health risks associated with environmental exposures in marine coastal regions and the Great Lakes Basin,” said Fred Tyson, a program director in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.
Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), also known as red tides, are a global problem affecting public health, fisheries, tourism, and many other sectors of society. There are serious and potentially growing human health impacts from exposure to the toxins produced by harmful algae, but many of the factors affecting the distribution, lifespan, proliferation, and toxicity of blooms still are poorly known. The mission of the WHCOHH is to protect the public health by advancing research on the oceanic and environmental processes that affect populations of harmful algae, and by developing models to predict how climate variability might influence the magnitude, duration, and distribution of algal blooms and the resulting human exposure to the potent neurotoxins domoic acid and saxitoxin that some blooms produce. Scientists associated with the Woods Hole Center are also researching how aspects of brain function may be affected by exposure to the toxins, especially during sensitive early developmental stages. The Woods Hole Center will communicate its findings to stakeholders, students, and the public to enhance broader understanding of issues related to ocean and human health and to aid resource management decisions.
The Woods Hole Center was established in 2004 with funding from NSF and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and has continued since then under direction of WHOI Senior Scientist John Stegeman. Early research at the Center included joint studies with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Marine Biological Laboratory on risks from pathogens and algal toxins in the ocean. WHOI Senior Scientist Dennis McGillicuddy, also the Chair of the Department of Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering, will act as Deputy Director of the Center and current research projects are being led by McGillicuddy and WHOI Senior Scientists Don Anderson and Mark Hahn, with community engagement led by Mindy Richlen.
“The health of the ocean and human health are inextricably linked,” said Stegeman. “When the health of the ocean suffers as a result of human activity, we suffer as well.”
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit http://www.whoi.edu/.