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Faculty members in UC Irvine's Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine are nationally and internationally recognized for their research, principally in the fields of occupational and environmental epidemiology and environmental toxicology.

Studies underway include examining the effects of:

  • Occupational stress on cardiovascular health, obesity and health behaviors
  • Environmental factors on children's health and development
  • Chemicals on human reproductive and developmental health
  • Atmospheric particulates on cardiopulmonary health

The division's major research areas of interest are:

  • Work organization and cardiovascular disease
  • Children's environmental health
  • Health effects of air pollution
  • Neurotoxicology
  • Reproductive and developmental effects of toxic exposure

Work Organization »

Dr. Peter Schnall, with Dr. Dean Baker, directs clinical and epidemiological studies on the health impacts of work organization and workplace psycholsocial stress, including on cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, depression and behavioral health.

By measuring blood pressure and heart rate variability among automobile parts distribution workers and others in Southern California, the team has shown a significant association between job strain—a measure of job stress due to high psychological demands and low control—and a rise in ambulatory blood pressure, an increase in left ventricular mass and a heightened risk for cardiovascular disease.

A current focus is on the role of workplace factors in firefighters on cardiovascular risk factors and behavioral health. This research builds on the expertise of the division faculty in occupational epidemiology, psychology and sociology, as well as clinical occupational medicine.

Children's Environmental Health »

Dr. Dean Baker directs the division's research program on children's environmental health, with special emphasis on designing studies and biological monitoring strategies to assess pathways of exposure to toxic substances and the effects of such exposures during gestation and early life.

In recent years, program investigators have examined the environmental risks for asthma morbidity among inner-city children; lead exposure pathways among children in Tijuana, Mexico; the health effects of DDT and solvents on children living near Superfund sites in California, and the latent effects of gestational exposure to the insecticide heptachlor in Hawaii. Division investigators also are collaborating on studies of air pollution and asthma in children.

Dr. Baker and Dr. James Swanson, a professor of pediatrics at UC Irvine, are leaders of the National Children's Study (NCS) for southern and central California. In 2005, they established the Orange County Vanguard Center, one of seven NCS centers in the nation, in collaboration with the university's Department of Pediatrics. The study, one of the largest birth cohort health projects ever developed, aims to follow 100,000 U.S. children from their mothers' pregnancy through age 21. Numerous researchers from several UC Irvine academic departments and schools are involved in this multidisciplinary collaboration.  

Health Effects of Air Pollution »

Robert Phalen, PhD, who directs the Air Pollution Health Effects Laboratory on the university campus, has conducted research for more than 25 years into the pulmonary toxicology of air pollutants, aerosol dynamics and the distribution of particles in the lung, in both human and animal models. His current research examines the accumulation of inhaled cigarette smoke in the human lung and the persistence of cigarette smoke in indoor settings. This work seeks to understand the unusual behavior of cigarette smoke clouds as well as to measure and control the human health risks associated with cigarette smoking.

Michael Kleinman, PhD, is conducting a series of studies on the health effects of atmospheric particles. By modeling the size and composition of particulate matter, he is trying to determine the mechanisms that mediate lung injury and other adverse effects of inhaled particles and whether these mechanisms of injury are dependent on particle size. His hypothesis is that breathing particulate matter initiates cardiopulmonary toxicity by injuring epithelial cells, resulting in oxidative stress and the release of mediators that cause cardiopulmonary injury.

Neurotoxicology »

Division researchers study the impact of environmental factors in such chronic degenerative neurological disorders as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, which are increasingly relevant as the U.S. population ages. A particular focus is the examination of the enhancing effect of iron on aluminum neurotoxicity in the aging brain and correlating levels of aluminum and oxidative parameters in post-mortem cerebral tissue from the brains of the aged and people with Alzheimer's.

Another study seeks to test the hypothesis that cerebral mitochondria are susceptible targets of age-related pro-oxidant events within the central nervous system and that outside factors may modify the rate of these events and influence other biological and behavioral consequences of aging.

Reproductive and Developmental Effects of Toxic Exposure »

A multidisciplinary research team led by division faculty member Dr. Ulrike Luderer is exploring the reproductive and developmental effects of human exposure to toxic agents in the workplace and in the environment, as well as the mechanisms by which chemicals cause reproductive toxicity. A major focus of current research is investigating the roles of oxidative stress and antioxidants in ovarian toxicity, ovarian aging and ovarian cancer. A second area of focus is the developmental toxicology of the reproductive system, specifically the developmental basis of premature ovarian failure and ovarian cancer.