A&T researcher’s work on COPD among ag workers wins support from NC TraCS program for scholars

Dr. Jenora Waterman has made one key discovery toward improving the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among agricultural workers, and now she’s been accepted into a prestigious career development program to advance her research.

Headshot of Dr. Waterman

Dr. Jenora Waterman

Dr. Waterman is an assistant professor of functional genomics in the Department of Animal Sciences at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. COPD is a major cause of death in the United States, most typically found among smokers. A less studied aspect of the disease is the 7% of its U.S. victims who are agricultural workers. They can develop COPD as a result of long-term exposure to animal production facilities containing dust that contributes to respiratory diseases.

High-density swine production houses are one example of such facilities.

Dr. Waterman’s first key finding came from comparing pigs raised indoors with those raised outdoors. Pigs aren’t as severely affected by the dust as humans are, but her work demonstrated that their respiratory systems are uniquely adapted to their housing type.

“My lab recently showed for the first time that pigs reared indoors and those raised outdoors exhibit structural and cellular differences in their respiratory systems,” Dr. Waterman says.

“The next step will be studying those differences to identify potential biomarkers that could serve as diagnostic or prognostic markers of agriculture-related COPD in humans.”

Dr. Waterman will take that step as an NC TraCS K-Scholar, a professional development honor for junior faculty members funded through the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) program of the National Institutes of Health.

She will receive funding for her research and mentored training for three years. Two faculty members from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will serve as mentors, Dr. Claire Doerschuk, a medical doctor and pathologist, and Dr. Lee Graves, a pharmacologist.

The scholars program is designed to train younger investigators in a dramatically new approach to research. It’s based on interdisciplinary teamwork, because the traditional single-discipline focus isn’t well suited to attacking complex biomedical problems or to putting new discoveries into practice as quickly as possible. And it’s translational – work that seeks to improve the health of the population by transforming discoveries from laboratory into clinical practice in community and health policy.

N.C. A&T is a partner in the CTSA grant won by UNC-CH last fall. Dr. Waterman’s grant is funded through the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute, the integrated home of the CTSA program at UNC-CH.

The goal of NC TraCS is to accelerate the translation of clinical research results into the treatment of disease.

Dr. Waterman is the director of the Respiratory Biology and Toxicology Laboratory at A&T. Her interests include respiratory cell biology, environmental toxicology, and cellular pathology. Her research focuses on the extent of environmental and functional genomic/proteomic influences on the pathophysiology of agriculture-related respiratory diseases.

She is an affiliated faculty member of the A&T bioengineering program and a contributing faculty member of the doctoral program in energy and environmental systems. Dr. Waterman was named the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences Outstanding Junior Researcher this year and research Rookie of the Year in 2011. She serves as a member of the N.C. A&T Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and the Institutional Biosafety Committee.

Dr. Waterman is a native of Los Angeles. She was a United Negro College Fund Scholar at Bennett College, where she earned her B.S. degree in biology, magna cum laude. She taught at Page Senior High School in Greensboro before receiving her master’s in biology from N.C. A&T. Her Ph.D. in functional genomics is from N.C. State University.

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