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Milton Levin – Post-Doctoral Fellow: PhD, Pathobiology and Veterinary Science, University of Connecticut, Storrs; MS, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg; BS, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne

Project Title: The impact of harmful algal blooms on human health: An immunotoxicological risk assessment approach
Mentors & Collaborators: Sylvain De Guise, Ann Ferris

Summary: Over the last several decades, the frequency and global distribution of harmful algal bloom (HAB) incidents have increased, and may be related to human activity, such as increased pollution runoff into aquatic ecosystems.  Exposure to two HAB toxins, brevetoxin and domoic acid (DA), have resulted in adverse health effects in humans, including death, either through ingestion of contaminated shellfish or direct exposure of aerosolized toxins.  In addition to the adverse public health consequences of HABs, there are also economic consequences, including commercial fishery impacts, recreation and tourism impacts, and monitoring and management costs.  HAB-induced immunomodulation may increase an individual’s susceptibility to a number of bacterial, viral, protozoal or fungal pathogens. This project is addressing the link between in vitro and in vivo (e.g., inhalation by lifeguards, consumption of contaminated shellfish) exposure to brevetoxin and DA, and the potential immunotoxic effects on key immune functions in humans as a first step towards species-specific, mechanistically based risk assessment.

Future Directions: My career vision includes an academic position in human and wildlife health, specifically to develop models to characterize the immune system and assess the importance of immune modulation in determining susceptibility to infectious diseases in humans and wildlife species.