Drs. Zhang and Freedman
Drs. Zhang and Freedman

Jonathan Freedman, PhD, Professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, recently visited China to take part in discussions related to global environmental toxicology initiatives. He took the time to share some of his experiences from his trip with UofLNews.com. 

UofLNews: What was the primary aim of your trip?

Jonathan Freedman: The aim of the trip was to meet with representatives from the United Kingdom, China, India and Bangladesh to have in-depth discussions of our Global Challenges Research Fund proposal. The GCRF will fund several ‘hubs’ related to addressing the challenges in developing countries. I am working on the proposal for the GCRF Environmental Justice Hub being submitted by the University of Birmingham, UK. As part of the GCRF project, I will be responsible for overseeing all aspects of the precision toxicology components of the project.  Additionally, my group will be specifically responsible for the C. elegans-based toxicity and transcriptomic measurements.

UofLNews: What is the goal of the GCRF Environmental Justice Hub?

Jonathan Freedman: Its goal is to combine precision toxicology and environmental justice to confront the inequitable exposure of poor, minority and disenfranchised populations to toxic chemicals, contaminated air and water and other forms of pollution. The focus of the hub also addresses the consequential disproportionate burden among these populations to pollution-related disease.  

UofLNews: How is UofL involved in the GCRF Environmental Justice Hub?

Jonathan Freedman: Currently, UofL is not an official partner in this proposal.  I am one of the founding members of the Environmental Care Consortium, a partner in this proposal. The ECC began in March 2012 as an international consortium with members from China, USA, United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Italy, Australia, Germany, Japan and Canada. The overarching mission of the ECC is to offer leadership at making the environment safe from toxic chemicals that poison the water, soil and air.  It has put together several large money applications to fund this type of research. 

UofLNews: Tell us about your meeting Haisong Zhang, president of the Medical College of Hebei University in Baoding.

Jonathan Freedman: I spent over three hours talking with Professor Zhang regarding a potential role for the medical college in the GCRF Environmental Justice Hub. We also discussed our common area of research interest – the influence of pollution on renal disease. He agreed that it would be very important for the College to be part of the Hub.  After our meeting, he gave me a tour of the renal unit in the hospital and the natural/herbal pharmacy. Professor Zhang agreed to support the GCRF efforts through health evaluations of pollution-affected individuals from Baoding. 

UofLNews: Do you expect to collaborate on a research project?

Jonathan Freedman: Yes, we will collaborate on pollution-based renal disease research. We have set up a WeChat Renal Disease group with Hebei. This includes myself, Professor Zhang, two additional faculty members from Hebei University and Dr. Lu Cai from the UofL Department of Pediatrics.

UofLNews: Tell us more about your research related to pollution.

Jonathan Freedman: I investigate how environmental pollutants (heavy metals) cause diseases, specifically on the cellular and molecular level. The major target organs of metal toxicity are liver and kidney, as well as heart and brain. Our research interests overlap in that Professor Zhang has patients with pollution-induced disease and I study the molecular causes of these diseases.

As for pollution, as part of the ECC and my own research, I developed alternative species, high throughput toxicity in vivo testing systems (see more here). These systems can be used to measure the levels of toxicity in environmental samples on whole organism and transcriptional levels.

UofLNews: What is your hope for future relationships with the Medical College of Hebei University ?

Jonathan Freedman: In the future, I hope to receive students and post-docs from Hebei. Research projects will combine human/patient information from Baoding, animal studies with Dr. Cai and molecular toxicology with my group.