Dr. Nadja Spitzer of Marshall University’s College of Science has been awarded a prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation.
Spitzer, an assistant professor of biological sciences, earned the award for her work to study how exposure to silver nanoparticles could be affecting the brains of children and adults. The award comes with funding of $508,708 over a five-year period.
Dr. Chuck Somerville, dean of the college, said he is very excited for Dr. Spitzer and what her success means for the progress of world-class research at Marshall.
“Through the NSF-EPSCoR RII program, we were able to provide the kind of infrastructure and support that it takes to be competitive,” Somerville said. “Nadja took full advantage of that support and brought a tremendous amount of talent and hard work to the mix. She has proven that Marshall students and faculty are prepared to compete on a world-wide stage.”
Marshall University President Jerome A. Gilbert also praised Spitzer, saying, “Once again, our researchers are exploring some of today’s most important scientific questions. I salute Dr. Spitzer for her scholarly accomplishments and her dedication to mentoring students. She is one of our leading scientists and truly exemplifies the role of teacher-scholar.”
According to Spitzer, many common consumer products like clothing, toys and food containers, claim anti-microbial properties that feature silver nanoparticles applied as coatings to the product. She said that although silver has been used as an antimicrobial since ancient times, the use of pure manufactured nanoparticles—tiny beads of silver—is new.
She added, “Unlike more traditional forms of silver, these nanoparticles are able to bypass human defense systems and enter tissues like the brain, where they tend to stay and accumulate. Over the course of a lifetime, then, people can be exposed to low doses of silver nanoparticles, shed from the products we use daily, through ingestion or inhalation.
“In my lab, we are interested in the changes or damage that may be happening in the brain due to this low-level chronic exposure, which is currently thought to be non-toxic.”
Spitzer said even though she is not a toxicologist in the traditional sense, she always has been concerned about the things to which humans are exposed.
“I chose neuroscience because the nervous system is so powerful and fascinating, and there is so much left to learn about it,” she said. “This research is important because it addresses a significant lack of knowledge regarding a substance that is increasingly used in consumer products.
“The findings will be especially applicable to children whose brains are still developing, and who face decades of exposure to silver nanoparticles through daily interaction with common products.”
She said the results of their research eventually may contribute to the development of guidelines for the use of silver nanoparticles in products and the release of the particles into the environment.
As part of the project, students from the university also will be going out to elementary schools throughout rural West Virginia to teach children scientific concepts in entertaining, interactive ways. The activities will be an offshoot of the university’s flagship Brain Expo event, which brings hundreds of schoolchildren to Marshall each year to learn about the nervous system and brain from Marshall faculty and students.
Spitzer earned her doctorate in neurobiology and behavior from Georgia State University in 2006, after completing her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia.
The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program is the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. For more information, visit www.nsf.gov/career.
To learn more about Spitzer and her research interests, visit www.marshall.edu/cos.