Health concerns of aging?especially cognitive decline and memory loss in older age?have huge public health implications as the United States and world populations are shifting in distribution toward older ages. While a variety of toxicants contribute to cognitive aging, we are focused on heavy metals (Pb, As, Mn, Cd, Cr, and Se) and metal mixtures because, despite years of regulation, clean-up, and remediation efforts, metal contamination in many Superfund sites persists and continues to threaten public health. To our knowledge, there is no current Superfund Research Center (SRC) that specifically addresses the health effects, risk, and remediation of metal contaminants in relation to their effects on cognitive health in older age. To fill this critical gap and to address the pressing public health problems posed by environmental metal contaminants on cognitive aging, we propose a new SRC entitled Metals and Metal Mixtures: Cognitive Aging, Remediation and Exposure Sources (MEMCARE). The overall goal of MEMCARE-SRC is to understand and mitigate effects of exposure to metals and metal mixtures on late-life cognitive health. To achieve this goal, we have designed a highly integrated, solution-based program of 4 Research Projects and 4 Cores. Project 1 uses an innovative approach to assess early-life exposures and late-life cognitive function in a unique population of adults now in their 60s and 70s who donated baby teeth as children. Project 2 investigates basic biological mechanisms underlying effects of early-life exposures using both in vitro and in vivo approaches. Project 3 examines the role of surface and groundwater treatment systems in spatial and temporal patterns of metals in water across the US, including Superfund sites. Project 4 will develop novel nanostructured adsorbents to remove metals from water, potentially providing improved remedies for our populations in Project 1 and the Community Engagement Core (CEC). Our CEC will partner with an urban, industrially-contaminated community in Boston, MA, and a rural community directly affected by two Superfund sites in Colorado. The Data Management and Analysis Core (DMAC) will provide data management, biostatistical, and bioinformatics support and ensure resource sharing and reproducible science for all Projects and Cores. The Administrative Core will provide oversight and communicate our science to stakeholders. The Research Experience and Training Coordination Core (RETCC) will embed with all aspects of our Center to provide doctoral and postdoctoral trainees with relevant experiences in all aspects of work in the SRC.
Cognitive aging has tremendous public health importance, but to our knowledge no Superfund Center addresses this outcome and it is not considered in risk assessment and risk management efforts. Our innovative Superfund Center not only tests the novel hypothesis that early life is a critical window for exposures that impact late-life cognitive health, but it also offers novel engineering solutions to remediate metal contamination. Our MEMCARE- SRC will lead to reductions in exposures to metals and metal mixtures and could help develop new prevention and treatment strategies that slow cognitive aging in Superfund communities affected by heavy metal contamination.