Trainee Highlights

By Bevin P. Engelward

MIT Superfund Program Director

Project 1 trainee Irene Hu successfully defended her thesis and will continue working with the SRP program as a postdoc.  In the laboratory of Prof. Harry Hemond (Project 1), her research focused on the development and testing of a novel in situ sensor to measure benthic fluxes of key biogeochemicals, including pollutants at contaminated sites. Read more in her Trainee Spotlight here.

Project 4 trainee and RTC leader Dr. Jenny Kay was interviewed for a piece in the ASCO Post, published November 25, 2018. The ASCO Post has a circulation of ~35,000 health care experts. Ms. Kay described the relationships between inflammation and carcinogenesis, important aspects of MIT SRP biological research projects.

Projects 1 and 2 trainee Dr. Maggie He presented a talk at the American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting and Exposition. Her talk, “Functionalized carbon nanotubes for chemical sensor applications,” described a chemiresistive sensor platform that will be adapted to sense NDMA and PAHs in the environment.

Project 2 trainee Dr. Hélène Angot received an Early Career Presentation Award for her poster, “Towards reduced human exposure to mercury: The need for near-term global action,” at the Joint 14th Annual iCACGP Quadrennial Symposium and at the 15th IGAC Science Conference in Takamatsu, Japan. Hélène Angot also published a manuscript entitled “Global and local impacts of delayed mercury mitigation efforts” in Environmental Science & Technology (

Project 4 trainee Lizzie Ngo graduated with her PhD under the supervision of Profs. Bevin Engelward and Leona Samson (Project 4). Dr. Ngo’s innovative work includes development of a novel platform for detecting bulky DNA lesions, which is being used for studies of PAHs in collaboration with other MIT SRP researchers. The assay exploits DNA repair trapping to convert undetectable bulky lesions into single strand breaks that can be detected using the CometChip platform. Dr. Ngo also developed another technology that can be used for higher throughput cytotoxicity quantitation. The “MicroColonyChip” platform exploits methods to create a microarray of mammalian cells. Cells are allowed to grow to form microcolonies with precise inter-colony distances. The sizes of the colonies are then measured using a combination of automated imaging and in-house software. Dr. Ngo discovered that the distribution of microcolony sizes give rise to exquisite sensitivity to chemical toxicity, rivaling the gold-standard colony forming assay and the popular Cell Titer-Glo assay. The approach is broadly useful to the MIT SRP and the manuscript, “Microcolony size distribution assay enables high-throughput cell survival quantitation,” was recently published in Cell Reports. In addition to these innovative projects, Dr. Ngo also developed methods for studying DNA repair in lymphocytes. In collaboration with Dr. Zachary Nagel of the Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Ngo analyzed repair kinetics for 50 different people. She observed significant differences in the DNA repair kinetics among different individuals, pointing to the possibility that DNA repair may be a susceptibility factor for exposure-induced diseases. Dr. Ngo is now an Associate at Flagship Pioneering, located in Cambridge, MA.