Environmental, occupational, and cancer research

Alison Bauer inspecting sample

Research interests

Role of environmental and occupational exposures in respiratory disease, including chronic inflammation and carcinogenesis

  • Constituents of secondhand smoke (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs)
  • Contaminants of particulate air pollution and soil (e.g., PAHs, vanadium pentoxide)
  • Mechanistic role(s) of bioactive lipids in toxicant-induced adverse lung effects

Role of the innate immune system in pulmonary neoplastic and non-neoplastic diseases

  • Toll-like receptors and additional innate immune markers in pulmonary neoplasia
  • Epiregulin involvement in the pathogenesis of NSCLC
  • TLR4 and heat shock protein 70 (Hsp70) in ozone induced lung injury and inflammation
Prevention of respiratory diseases through intervention and new therapeutics

Current projects, lab members, collaborators, and recent publications

Investigating the role of PAHs in respiratory diseases induced by secondhand smoke and other environmental exposures, such as air pollution

Secondhand smoke (SHS) and air pollution are associated with many diseases including respiratory diseases, such as childhood and adult asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer.[1,2] Some occupations in the U.S. still have high exposures to SHS, such as casino workers, and environmentally with apartment dwellers.[3-7]  In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated 9 in 10 people globally breathe polluted, toxic air. The WHO was quoted stating that “Air pollution is the new tobacco”. Unfortunately, due to the latency of many chronic pulmonary diseases, individuals exposed to SHS and air pollution can observe effects years after exposure. Thus, the effects of these exposures are a real concern for human health at all ages.

Our research in collaboration with Dr. Brad Upham (Michigan State University) focuses on the most abundant PAHs in SHS and air pollution, the  two-four-ringed PAHs (such as fluoranthene)[8-10] and their role in pulmonary inflammation and cell-cell communication (see SHS PAHs and adverse lung effects; SHS PAHs and eicosanoid signaling; SHS PAHs and inflammatory mediators). Recent studies focus on the investigation of downstream signaling events following several “omics” studies. We are particularly interested in understanding the role of bioactive lipids in mediating the effects of PAHs in diseases such as asthma and cancer. 


Current projects




  1. CDC (2008) Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses—United States, 2000-2004. Atlanta, GA. 1226–1228 p.
  2. CDC (2010) Vital Signs: Nonsmokers' Exposure to Secondhand Smoke —United States, 1999-2008. Atlanta, GA. 1141-1146 p.
  3. Achutan C et al., (2011) J Occup Environ Med 53: 346-351.
  4. Arjomandi M, Haight T, Redberg R, Gold WM (2009) J Occup Environ Med 51: 639-646.
  5. Beatty AL, Haight TJ, Redberg RF (2011) Environ Health 10: 81.
  6. Ebbert JO et al. (2007) Environ Health 6: 28.
  7. Pilkington PA, Gray S, Gilmore AB (2007) BMC Public Health 7: 257.
  8. Lee HL, Hsieh DP, Li LA (2010) Chemosphere 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2010.09.045.
  9. Moir D et al. (2008) Chem Res Toxicol 21: 494-502.
  10. Severson RF et al. (1976) Isolation, identification, and quantification of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons in tobacco smoke. In: Freudenthal RI, and Jones, P.W., editor. Carcinogenesis- A comprehensive survey Vol 1 Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons: Chemistry, metabolism, and carcinogenesis. New York, New York: Raven Press. pp. 253-270.