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EPA Fellowship Developing Pathways for Neurotoxic Chemicals Using Proteomics in Rat Neurons In Vitro

EPA Office/Lab and LocationA research opportunity is available at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Research and Development (ORD), Center for Public Health Environmental Assessment (CPHEA), Public Health and Integrated Toxicology Division (PHITD) located in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Research Project: Current testing guidelines are not efficient in terms of time, sensitivity, or cost, since there are more than 100,0000 chemicals that need prioritization for further toxicity testing. It is beneficial to develop rapid and sensitive methods to detect neurotoxicity/developmental neurotoxicity (DNT). One goal for the Agency is to develop a cost-effective and rapid assay based on sound systems in vitro biology for prioritizing chemicals for subsequent screening and neurotoxicity testing. Although DNT testing, which focuses on a limited set of cellular phenotypic responses, has gained a lot of attention recently, understanding the adverse outcome pathways (AOPs; i.e. the underlying molecular mechanisms) in adult animals is vital for adult neurotoxicity testing and to expedite development of models for DNT assessment. We have been developing in vitro methods to understand in vivo functional and morphological outcomes. Research has focused on understanding the changes from the molecular -> cellular -> organ -> whole animal responses. Understanding multiple toxicity pathways at the same time is facilitated by current developments in genomic (study of all genes in an organism), proteomic (study of all proteins in an organism) and modeling technologies. This 'Omics approach in developing AOPs will also support the currently used New Approach Methods (NAMs) such as Neurite Outgrowth and microelectrode array (MEA) and may develop New NAMs that are more sensitive than those available now.

The research participant will have the opportunity to be involved in the projects identifying the AOPs for selected neurotoxicants through proteomic and genomic analysis in vitro using neuronal cultures as well as in vivo in whole animal studies. The research participant will be trained in evaluating neurochemical, molecular, and transcriptomic changes occurring following exposure to chemicals in vitro and in vivo. The research participant will be trained in analyzing data and writing research publications. The research project will be closely integrated with ongoing projects in PHITD and collaborators in the CPHEA.

Under the guidance of a mentor, the research participant will have the opportunity to carry out general laboratory procedures that occur in a functional biological laboratory and gain experience growing cyanobacteria cultures, conducting research with mammalian tissue culture cells and studying environmental water cultures. The research participant will have the opportunity to carry out scientific experiments in microplastics and cyanobacteria using the equipment in the laboratory. The research participant will gain experience evaluating data, making figures and tables, and will have the opportunity to help write-up the data for a possible publication in a scientific journal.

Learning ObjectivesThe research participant will have the opportunity to develop skills in designing, conducting, analyzing, and interpreting data for communication to the broader scientific audience. The research participant will have opportunities to present research findings at major society conferences and interact with a broad group of scientists at the EPA and elsewhere. The research activities may include:

  • Experimental study design and problem-solving.
  • Performing primary neuronal cell cultures from rat cortical tissue and conduct several biochemical assays related to cytotoxicity, oxidative stress, and intracellular signalling.  
  • Training in applying molecular biology techniques to assess protein and gene expression changes in cell cultures and tissue samples. The research participant will work in a team environment with other scientists to process and analyze the results.
  • Developing updated reports (oral, written) to inform mentors and collaborators about activities and results concerning research progress (e.g., presentations, posters, and manuscripts).
  • Communicating scientific findings by presenting results at scientific meetings.
  • Maintaining organization and quality assurance of own and team data and information, including physical samples, laboratory notebooks, and electronic files. This includes compliance with all laboratory Quality Assurance and management policies and requirements. 

Mentor(s)The research participant will be co-mentored by Drs. Prasada Kodavanti ( and David Herr, NETB, PHITD, CPHEA (

Anticipated Appointment Start Date: October 1, 2022. All start dates are flexible and vary depending on numerous factors. Click here for detailed information about start dates.

Appointment LengthThe appointment will initially be for one year and may be renewed upon EPA recommendation and subject to availability of funding.

Level of ParticipationThe appointment is full-time (hours to be determined).

Participant StipendThe participant will receive a monthly stipend commensurate with educational level and experience. Click here for detailed information about full-time stipends.

EPA Security ClearanceCompletion of a successful background investigation by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is required for an applicant to be on-boarded at EPA.

ORISE InformationThis program, administered by ORAU through its contract with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to manage the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), was established through an interagency agreement between DOE and EPA. Participants do not become employees of EPA, DOE or the program administrator, and there are no employment-related benefits. Proof of health insurance is required for participation in this program. Health insurance can be obtained through ORISE.

The successful applicant(s) will be required to comply with Environmental, Safety and Health (ES&H) requirements of the hosting facility, including but not limited to, COVID-19 requirements (e.g. facial covering, physical distancing, testing, vaccination).

Questions: Please see the FAQ section of our website. After reading, if you have additional questions about the application process please email and include the reference code for this opportunity.

The qualified candidate should be currently pursuing or have received a doctoral (Ph.D.) degree in one of the relevant fields (e.g. Neuroscience, Biology), or be currently pursuing the degree with completion by the appointment start date. Degree must have been received within the past five years. Two or more years of post-doc experience in molecular biology, immunohistochemistry, and cell culture are preferred.

Preferred skills/experience:

  • Experience in experimental design, cell culture techniques, and statistical analysis.
  • Experience in handling rodents, chemical exposures, and performing toxicological studies.
  • Experience in performing necropsies, and measurement of biochemical/immunohistochemical endpoints in rodents
  • Experience in summarizing experimental data, analyzing research results and preparing data for scientific publication and presentation are desirable.

Research activities will be performed in a combination of office, and laboratory. The ORISE post-doc will be provided with desk space that includes a standard computer and software and will have access to laboratories equipped for a variety of sample processing and analysis tasks.