Dr. Jooyeon Hwang is an Assistant Professor of Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She has extensive training and experience in carcinogenic exposure assessments for occupational epidemiological studies, knowledge and skills that she hopes to leverage in the study of human microbiomes and epigenetic biomarkers. As epigenetic assessment is a new methodology in her field, she is applying for the Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01) to achieve three training goals: 1) to become an independent researcher in an emerging area of study ? exposure-associated epigenetic assessment, 2) to integrate miRNA characteristics into the prediction of carcinogenic issues, and 3) to develop intervention and prevention strategies for firefighters. To achieve these goals, Dr. Hwang will receive mentoring from a multidisciplinary team, consult with an advisory committee, complete coursework and training programs, and attend national meetings and workshops. Her proposed research addresses 1) the Public Safety Sector and the Cancer, Reproductive, Cardiovascular and Other Chronic Disease Prevention Cross-Sector of the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) and 2) 1.9C: Exposure to carcinogens - Exposures from wearing contaminated gear, Translational Research under Goal 1: Reduce Occupational Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, Adverse Reproductive Outcomes, and Other Chronic Disease of the Strategic Plan for 2019-2023. The proposed study, in which Dr. Hwang will investigate factors and mechanisms potentially contributing to firefighters' elevated risk of skin cancer, including melanoma and non-melanoma, has two specific aims: 1) to assess associations between residual levels of PAH on firefighters' turnout gear and skin with exposure variables derived from turnout gear practices and 2) to assess the concentration of PAH on skin and PAH- associated microRNA (miRNA) expression in blood of the firefighters. The results of the proposed study will be used to enhance the current understanding of carcinogenic exposure to PAH using miRNA expression profiling, which describes cancer pathways, development, and progression. The contributions of this study will be twofold. First, a novel exposure assessment strategy will be developed that synthesizes the epigenetic alteration of genes in biomarkers of firefighters. Second, this occupation-based study for understanding the mechanisms of the PAH-associated miRNA before and after exposure during fire activities will be disseminated to regional and statewide firefighters as well as the scientific community. Dr. Hwang will compile the results from this study and submit an R01 focusing on an integrated analysis of messenger RNA (mRNA)-miRNA in the firefighter cohort. The second analysis will simultaneously enable a follow-up with the participants for a longitudinal study.
Smoke-derived organic compounds from fire-related activities and from turnout gear are deposited on firefighters. Those compounds may link to cancer sites in humans. Therefore, this proposed study aims to assess the residual levels of selected compounds on firefighters' skin and on turnout gear with exposure variables derived from work practices and to investigate exposure-associated epigenetic assessment in the blood of firefighters. Based on this research, Dr. Hwang will elaborate on the current understanding of carcinogenic exposures using expression profiling, epigenetic assessment, and bioinformatics during the K01 award period.