Prof. Élyse Caron-Beaudoin receives grants to study links between unconventional natural gas development and asthma

Assistant Professor Élyse Caron-Beaudoin
Assistant Professor Élyse Caron-Beaudoin

Department of Health and Society Professor Élyse Caron-Beaudoin has received two new grants for projects measuring risk factors for asthma – including the department’s first ever NSERC Discovery Grant.

Dr. Caron-Beaudoin received the NSERC grant for a project which aims to fill a gap in the research around how male and female cells react to oxidative stress – which can be triggered by exposure to chemicals associated with unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) and can contribute to asthma and other respiratory illnesses. The project will develop an airway experimental system to measure sex-specific differences in oxidative stress response.

“A lot of different environmental contaminants induce oxidative stress, which can impact cells function and behavior,” explains Dr. Caron-Beaudoin. “When there is an imbalance between the level of reactive oxygen species and a biological system's antioxidant capacity, the cell is in a state of oxidative stress. This can lead to significant damage to DNA, protein and lipids. Oxidative stress is one of the mechanisms at the root of many different diseases.”

But there is limited research around whether this process is affected by the biological sex of cells.

“The hypothesis here is that there may be cellular differences in how a cell responds to any type of external stimuli, including oxidative stress, based on the sex chromosomes,” adds Dr. Caron-Beaudoin.

The four-year NSERC Discovery Grant will allow Dr. Caron-Beaudoin to develop sex-specific cellular models for a variety of organs, beginning with the lungs. Dr. Caron-Beaudoin will develop a co-culture model which will mimic the airway, which will be exposed to chemicals associated with UNGD, and the oxidative stress reaction in both male and female models measured.

Dr. Caron-Beaudoin has also received a Catalyst Grant from the Data Sciences Institute to examine the association between exposure to UNGD activity and its associated air pollutants, and asthma exacerbation among individuals with asthma living in Northeast BC, and to assess whether First Nations status increases the risk of exposure.

“This is an epidemiological study, using administrative health data from the province of British Columbia,” says Dr. Caron-Beaudoin. “We're going to build a cohort of people that live in northeastern British Columbia and have asthma, and look at their proximity to oil and gas activity and what the air quality around their home was during an asthma exacerbation event. We're seeing if there is a correlation between the type of oil and gas activity around these people and when they have an asthma exacerbation event, and the severity of this asthma exacerbation event.”

Current epidemiological literature on conventional oil gas coming out of the US finds evidence of negative birth, respiratory and cardiovascular outcomes in the region of wells, but there is not a lot of research coming out of Canada, notes Dr. Caron-Beaudoin.

“We know that the contaminants emitted from UNGD industry are respiratory irritants. We also hear from communities in northeastern British Columbia, from community members, healthcare providers, physicians that there's a lot of asthma and other respiratory issues. The combination of this strong anecdotical information and the findings of US studies on proximity to oil and gas activity and respiratory outcomes motivated us to explore this question in Canada."