IHN Alumna, Mary Gamble, PhD (‘99), was recently awarded a five-year, $2.4 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to Study Role of Folic Acid and Creatine in Lowering Blood Arsenic Levels. Dr. Gamble’s study, which will be conducted in Bangladesh, will explore folic acid and creatine as therapeutic approaches for lowering blood arsenic.
Dr. Gamble completed her MS and PhD degrees in the Institute of Human Nutrition and is an assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and a member of the teaching faculty of the Institute of Human Nutrition. Her research represents a potentially promising area both for the field of nutrition and for the health of millions in the US and around the world.
Roughly 140 million people in over 70 countries are chronically exposed to hazardous concentrations of naturally occurring arsenic in drinking water. Arsenic, a carcinogen, has also been associated with cardiovascular and lung diseases. Naturally occurring arsenic-contamination of ground water currently used for drinking is also a problem in parts of the United States. Dr. Gamble’s research seeks to identify simple, low-cost, low-risk nutritional interventions that can reduce risk for arsenic-induced health outcomes.
To this end, Dr. Gamble will build on her earlier research, which found, in people who are folate deficient, that folic acid supplementation facilitates the methylation and urinary elimination of arsenic, thereby significantly lowering blood arsenic concentrations. The new work will investigate the efficacy of folic acid supplementation in lowering blood arsenic in participants who are not necessarily folate deficient. Other goals are to determine the optimal dose and duration of treatment. Finally, the study will test the hypothesis that creatine supplementation, which downregulates endogenous creatine biosynthesis, will spare methyl groups, facilitate the methylation of other substrates, including arsenic – and thereby lower blood arsenic.
In 2008, Dr. Gamble received the Mailman School of Public Health’s Calderone Junior Faculty Prize for her research on nutritional therapies to lower blood arsenic levels. The annual prize is awarded in memory of Frank Calderone, a distinguished officer in the New York City Department of Health who also held significant posts in the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.N. Secretariat Health Service. It acknowledges the scientific merit and public health significance of the researcher’s project.
Mary Gamble's earlier work on retinoid metabolism included studies on proteins involved in retinoid transport and in the generation of transcriptionally active retinoic acid metabolites. Her international research began with studies on vitamin A deficiency in the Marshall Islands and Brazil. Her work in nutritional biochemistry is now focused primarily on folate-dependent one-carbon metabolism and nutrient/environment interactions.
Sharon Akabas, Ph.D.
Associate Director of Educational Initiative
Director, MS in Nutrition Program
Institute of Human Nutrition
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