Master thesis (Patrick Miskulnig)
Heavy metals such as lead, chromium, cadmium, mercury and antimony are of great concern, as they can cause numerous health problems in humans exposed to high enough levels. These metals make their way into plastic products as catalysts during production or when recycled plastic is exposed to metals during the reclamation process. Plastics are often analysed by XRF, as it is a widely used non-destructive and fast technique to determine the elemental composition of various samples. The core task of this work is to test if XRF analysis is a reliable and quick alternative to traditional analytical methods. Therefore, ICPMS analysis on digested plastic samples will be applied to validate XRF data. Further side tasks will include the optimization of sample preparation procedures for ICPMS analysis.
Dissertation (Martin Walenta)
Macro fungi are of special interest, as they are neither animals nor plants, which interact strongly with their environment (e.g. in symbiosis or as parasites). In addition, their role as protein suppliers for humans is becoming more and more important nowadays, as many people search for meatless alternatives, which in the case of fungi also contain little fat and a lot of water. Another interesting fact is that fungi have a very variable distribution of elements stored inside them and there are even some species which are considered as so-called hyperaccumulators.
In recent years, a lot of research has been done on how much and in what form arsenic is present in the various mushroom species. This is especially important, because the different chemical forms of arsenic differ greatly in their toxicity. In addition, it is important to know if the fungus absorbs the species directly as they are found in the environment or if the mushroom is able to metabolise them from other probably unknown species in soil for example. Based on these studies, it would be also important to know if other elements, such as Zn, Fe, Co or Se, show a similar behaviour to provide a better understanding of the metal metabolism of mushrooms.
Therefore, this PhD study is focused on the development of new methods to analyse different metal containing compounds in macro fungi, starting with the cultivation and collection of different types of mushrooms in various environments, to study the effect of different environments on the elemental distribution within the fungi. In the next steps, existing analysis methods need to be refined and new methods need to be developed to answer the question, in which form metals are present in the fungi and if these species are directly absorbed or metabolised within the mushroom. Furthermore, mushrooms accumulating specific metals should be identified and analysed to see if they could possibly used as fortified food or to purify polluted regions.
WTZ (Science & Technology cooperation), Albania
Numerous studies have demonstrated that ambient air pollution poses a potential hazard to the environment and human health. Especially particulate matter (PM), a complex mixture of very small particles and liquid droplets in the Earth’s atmosphere, is linked to a range of significant adverse health effects, including respiratory, chronic pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, the idea for the proposed project came from the common need to implement air quality friendly processes in all fields and to establish and improve methods to monitor air quality and to measure selected air pollutants in Albania. The integrated monitoring of air pollutants, in accordance with European Standards is an emergent need in Albania, since it’s a crucial prerequisite to Albania’s EU accession negotiations. Unfortunately, there is a critical lack on air quality data in Albania especially looking at heavy metals in particulate matter, although their determination is an important task for environmental researchers. Some heavy metals like cadmium (Cd), nickel (Ni) and chromium (Cr) or the metalloid arsenic (As) are classified as carcinogens.
The main goals of this project will be the following: (i) to strengthen the technical and scientific capacities of the Analytical Chemistry laboratory in the Department of Chemistry, FNS, University of Tirana aiming to expand its field of operation in air monitoring by implementing the latest techniques and experiences in the world. The gained experience will serve not only as a small scientific research center for the students doing the teaching and learning practices in this department, but also as an opportunity for other state institutes or private companies to collaborate in order to improve the quality of air in Albania; (ii) to gain new insights in the complex topic of particulate matter, leading to a new way of understanding the enrichment and behavior of given elements and pollutants in the atmosphere in the course of the year.
WTZ (Science & Technology cooperation), South Africa
Informal recycling of scrap metal and e-waste poses a risk for human health. An example of recycling of scrap metal is the casting of liquid aluminum from a collection of scrap metal into cooking pots. In a range of developing countries, artisanal (informal) aluminum cookware has replaced cast iron cookware. A study on locally manufactured artisanal aluminum cookware in Cameroon revealed that raw materials used included engine parts (from both cars and motorbikes), waste aluminum and e-waste (computer parts).The evaluated Pb exposure from the cookware revealed Pb exposure was as high as 260 μg per serving. A further study investigated the metal content in 42 locally made artisanal aluminum pots from 10 developing countries. The study revealed artisanal cookware as a potential multi-metal source with public health significance. Considering the possible metal exposure associated with artisanal cookware, there is a great need for a better understanding of the availability and risks to end users in order to develop risk mitigation guidelines.
In South Africa, artisanal aluminum pots have been in circulation for over two decades. Nonetheless, the locally available artisanal aluminum pots have not been investigated as a possible source of metal exposure. The characterization of metals in artisanal cookware and the identification of the deterioration of cookware products and mechanisms affecting them are critical to fully understanding the human health impact.
To determine the risk of metal exposure posed by artisanal cookware available in South Africa, our aims are
- To screen new and used artisanal cookware for metals with a focus on aluminum (Al), arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd) and lead (Pb)
- To quantify the level of metals in various leachate scenarios
- To determine the deterioration of artisanal cookware over time
Dissertation (Sieglinde Zelzer)
Vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for the incidence and progression of a broad range of diseases including osteoporosis, rickets, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, multiple sclerosis and cancer. Despite significant progress in the analysis of vitamin D metabolites and an expansion of our pathophysiological knowledge of vitamin D, the assessment of vitamin D status remains a challenging and partially unresolved issue. Scientific bodies around the globe recommend the measurement of 25-hydroxy vitamin D (25-OHD) in blood as the preferred test. However, growing evidence indicates significant limitations of this test, including analytical aspects and interpretation of results. More recent studies have suggested that other indices of vitamin D status, such as free 25-OHD, bioavailable 25-OHD and the ratio 24,25(OH)2D / 25OHD (vitamin D metabolite ratio; VMR), may provide additional information beyond the isolated measurement of 25(OH)D.
Besides the lack of clinical information there are analytical issues that limit a wider use of novel vitamin D indices. The determination of free and bioavailable 25-OHD requires the measurement of vitamin D binding protein (VDBP), a highly polymorphic protein. However, the analytical performance of commercial ELISAs for the measurement of VDBP varies substantially and depends on the capture antibody used. Only mass spectrometry is capable of capturing all forms correctly and can thus provide a true result. For 24,25(OH)2D very few commercial methods are available so far. Furthermore, no international standard materials are available to help laboratories aligning their results. A recent evaluation of a multiplex LC-MS/MS with immune-affinity chromatography showed poor performance, which underlines the need for sensitive and accurate LC-MS/MS methods for the determination of vitamin D metabolites and VDBP.
Therefore, well characterized methods for the measurement of vitamin D and their metabolites are needed. The use of these methods in different cohorts of healthy and diseased subjects and the vitamin D metabolite ratio as another interesting index will help to understand their practical value for the assessment of vitamin D status. The present projects aims to develop and validate sensitive and accurate methods for the simultaneous measurement 25-OHD, 24,25-dihydroxy vitamin D and 1,25-(OH)2D. These methods will be used to explore the vitamin D status in different cohorts of healthy and diseased subjects.
Dissertation (Christoph Walcher)
The number of modern pharmaceutical formulations containing special drug delivery systems for the controlled release of active substances is constantly increasing. The main objectives of these delivery systems are to achieve a prolonged therapeutic effect and predictable drug release kinetics over a defined time period. Classical delivery systems for the controlled release of pharmaceutical active substances are coated pills for oral administration, transdermal pads or drug/device combination products like drug-eluting stents. In recent years more and more parenterally administered formulations for controlled drug release were developed. Although the number of these dosage forms is permanently rising, there are currently no compendial dissolution test methods available, which are especially designed for testing these formulations. For in vitro testing of a dosage form performance under standardized conditions, dissolution is a very powerful method. On the one hand these tests are used during the development of formulations to predict the in vivo performance by establishing in vitro-in vivo correlations (IVIVCs), on the other hand they are also used for the quality control during the production of such systems. Although these tests are already routine, there are currently no formal FDA guidelines available for in vitro release testing of injectable controlled release systems to establish IVIVCs. Since extended release dosage forms usually release the active substance over a long period of time like weeks, months or even years to maintain a constant level, a real time dissolution test would be rather time consuming. Therefore, accelerated in vitro release methods are needed for quality control purposes and to establish IVIVCs during development much faster.
The aim of this work is the development of alternative strategies for the dissolution testing of parenteral administered controlled release dosage forms. Adjustment of known methods and development of new devices for sample placement is needed to overcome existing problems. To obtain reproducible standard methods it is also necessary to provide as simple routines as possible with the possibility of preferably total automatization. The development and evaluation of fast, reproducible and easy to use dissolution testing methods with good discriminatory abilities, which can be used as methods for IVIVCs and for quality control, are further objectives of this dissertation.
Dissertation (Elisabeth Steger-Liebminger)
In October, 2009 the EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) published a report giving a scientific opinion on arsenic in food . In this report the CONTAM Panel tried to evaluate the risk of arsenic in food to human health. Its aim was to provide latest scientific information on the toxicity of arsenic, on the ratios between inorganic and organic forms of arsenic in food and on the exposure of humans to arsenic due to the consumption of different kinds of food. The CONTAM Panel comes up with a risk characterization due to a dietary exposure of arsenic in food, however admits a number of uncertainties in its risk assessment so that it calls for significant improvements in order to refine future risk estimations.
Based on these recommendations for improvement this work aims at critically discussing and evaluating
- the methods of analysis for the determination of arsenic in food (sample preparation, instrumental techniques) from the year 2010 onwards
- the scientific progress in determining arsenic species in food and in separating inorganic arsenic from organic arsenic species
- recent studies contributing to a better characterization of human exposure to inorganic arsenic in food
- topical studies on the effects and toxicity of organoarsenicals in food
- effects of the cooking procedure on the arsenic speciation
- relevant studies of the exposure to arsenic of infants
- differences in the arsenic uptake due to a vegetarian diet
- transformation of the arsenic compounds in the human gut
As the CONTAM PANEL stresses the importance of further information on the exposure to arsenic through the consumption of vegetarian and vegan food, different products of these kinds will be analysed and the attempt of establishing a connection between the outcome of these analyses and the geographical origin of the raw materials used for the production of these products will be made. Additionally, the influence of different cooking procedures on the arsenic speciation will be studied in selected food.
 EFSA Journal 2009; 7(10):135
Die Entwicklung der Triple-Quadrupol-Technologie für ICPMS eröffnet neue Perspektiven in der Bestimmung von Elementen mit polyatomaren Interferenzen wie Schwefel und Phosphor. Durch die effiziente Entfernung dieser Interferenzen wird die Analyse von schwefel- und phosphorhaltigen Metaboliten in biologischen Matrices im Spurenbereich ermöglicht. Dieser analytische Fortschritt führt zu einer Vielzahl von Anwendungen, einschließlich nicht-radioaktiver Tracer-Studien beim Menschen, die Entdeckung von schwefel- und phosphor-getaggten Biomarkern sowie die Untersuchung der metabolischen Profile von Schwefel bzw. Phosphor. Neue HPLC-ICPQQQMS-Analysemethoden unter Verwendung verschiedener Probenvorbereitungsstrategien werden entwickelt, um die Schwefel- bzw. Phosphor-Stoffwechselprofile in menschlichem Urin zu untersuchen. Diese Arbeit wird wertvolle Analysemethoden zur Verfügung stellen, welche zu einem besseren Verständnis der Biochemie und der Stoffwechselwege von Schwefel und Phosphor beim Menschen beitragen wird. Daraus wird sich eine Vielzahl zukünftiger Anwendungen ergeben.
WTZ (Science & Technology cooperation), Czech Republic, CZ 10/2017
Since 1987, back when the United States Environmental Protection Agency classified particulate matter according to its aerodynamic diameter, these small particles and their adverse health effects were extensively studied by researchers. However, there are still many unanswered questions. According to legal requirements, this complex system present in the atmosphere is typically characterized by measuring particles smaller than 10, 2.5 or 1.0 µm. Recent studies have shown that smaller particles, especially ultra-fine particles (UFPs, < 100 nm), are more dangerous for human health. The question now is how the elements, especially anthropogenic more mobilized elements, are distributed within a given size range. One can imagine that these distribution patterns might be source dependent.
Therefore, size-fractionated particulate matter samples between 15 nm and 10 µm fractions will be sampled in urban areas in Austria and the Czech Republic at different locations with specific contributions from anthropogenic sources (such as traffic & industry) throughout two consecutive years. In the samples total element concentrations will be determined.
The project will give new insights in the complex topic of particulate matter, especially UFPs, leading to a new way of understanding the enrichment and behavior of given elements and pollutants in the atmosphere in the course of a whole year. Finally, the results could provide us with an excellent tool for source assignment and risk assessment of PM, especially for airborne nanoparticles.
WTZ (Science & Technology cooperation), Croatia, HR 05/2016
Millionen von Menschen sind immer noch von erhöhten Arsenkonzentrationen im Trinkwasser betroffen. So haben beispielsweise etwa 200 000 Kroaten (fast 5 % der Bevölkerung) nur Zugang zu Wasser mit mehr als 10 µg As/L.
Es wird vermutet, dass oxidativer Stress auf die DNA die Hauptwirkungsweise der Toxizität von Arsen darstellt. In diesem Projekt verwenden wir einen Mikronucleus-Cytom-Assay mit Zellen der Mundschleimhaut, was mit Assays an Lymphocyten korreliert werden kann. Verschiedene Messgrößen werden als innovative Biomarker für chronische Arsenbelastung evaluiert, zum Beispiel die Anzahl an Mikronuklei oder die verschiedenen Phasen der Apoptose. Die Ergebnisse werden mit den Arsenkonzentrationen und der Arsenspeziation im Urin der kroatischen Bevölkerung korreliert, als auch mit soziodemografischen, medizinischen und Life-Style Informationen.
AKTION (Österreich - Tschechische Republik) Projektnummer 73P8
In diesem Kooperationsprojekt untersuchen wir verschiedene Risikoelemente (Arsen, Cadmium, Blei, Zink Quecksilber und Antimon) in belasteten Gegenden in der Tschechischen Republik und Österreich. Dazu zählen insbesondere ehemalige Bergbau- und Verhüttungsgebiete. In einem ersten Schritt werden verschiedene physikochemische Parameter in der Erde bestimmt. Des Weiteren werden wir unterschiedliche Kleintiere in den ausgewählten Orten fangen und sie auf eine mögliche Akkumulation der Risikoelemente untersuchen.
FWF Projekt I 2352-B21
In diesem bilateralen und interdisziplinären Projekt beschäftigen wir uns mit dem Phänomen, dass einige Pilze Arsen in ungewöhnlich hohen Mengen anreichern können. Die Gründe hierfür sind noch weitestgehend unerforscht.
Unsere Arbeit umfasst unter anderem das Sammeln von Pilzen in der Tschechischen Republik und in Österreich, die Bestimmung ihres Arsengehalts (auch im Hinblick auf ihre Herkunft) und die Aufklärung der vorhandenen Arsenspezies. Mit in vitro Experimenten werden wir Arsen-Biotransformationsprozesse von Pilzen näher beleuchten. An diesem Projekt sind analytische Chemiker, Biochemiker, Biogeochemiker und Pilzkundler beteiligt, wodurch wir wertvolle sowie komplexe Ergebnisse erhalten können. Wir werden in der Lage sein, grundlegende neue Erkenntnisse über Arsen, seine Verteilung und seine Umwandlung in der Natur zu gewinnen.
Mushrooms have been used in folk medicine over the centuries, especially in the Far East countries. Nowadays, their extracts and metabolites are being given special attention in research on new bioactive preparations. Numerous mushroom species have been shown to have the ability to absorb and accumulate trace elements, including selenium (Se). Se is an essential micronutrient required for a number of physiological functions, health and disease prevention in humans and animals. Se-compounds from higher fungi have been linked to beneficial effects and disease prevention due to their inhibitory effect on cell growth, DNA, RNA and enzyme activity in transformed cells, which has been confirmed in many laboratories including our own. The aim of the project is to analyze the chemical profile of Se-exposed mushroom fruit bodies and mycelia of Pleurotus pulmonarius. In addition identification and characterization of the Se-molecules from P. pulmonarius will give a handle on the biotechnological production of these potentially valuable natural compounds.
Sparkling Science, SPA 05/137
Dieses Projekt ist ein Folge- und Erweiterungsprojekt des Sparkling Science Projektes: „Pollen & Feinstaub als gemeinsame Allergieauslöser?“. Als zentrales Forschungsziel wird weiterhin der Frage nachgegangen ob Feinstaub Pollen so verändert, dass die Allergenität des Pollens beeinflusst wird. Um dieser Frage auf den Grund zu gehen wurden im ersten Projekt Methoden und Untersuchungsdesigns in der Botanik, der Molekularbiologie und der analytischen Chemie entwickelt, getestet und adaptiert. Auf Basis dieser Erkenntnisse, der bisherigen Untersuchungsergebnisse und Adaptierungen wird die Forschung im hier beantragten Projekt fortgesetzt.
WTZ (Science & Technology cooperation) Czech Republic, CZ 06/2015
Catalytic converters from automobiles typically contain the platinum group elements (PGEs) platinum, palladium and rhodium. Although the PGEs are not used up chemically during the catalytic processes, they are released due to thermal stress and surface abrasion caused by exhaust fumes. The airborne particles accumulate in the environment in road dust and roadside soils, from where they might get into aquatic systems and the vegetation. Thus far, there are evidences that the complex salts of PGEs are affecting the respiratory system and that especially Pt and Pd in metallic form are potent sensitizers.
The target of the present work is the development of a method for the direct quantification of PGEs in roadside soil with ICPMS after microwave-assisted acid digestion.
Sparkling Science, SPA 04/050
In den letzten Jahrzehnten war eine starke Zunahme der allergischen Erkrankungen zu beobachten. Die Palette der gesundheitlichen Beeinträchtigungen durch Allergien reicht von Heuschnupfen und Schleimhautreizung (Rhinitis,Conjunctivities) über atopische Dermatitis bis hin zu allergischem Asthma und anaphylaktischem Schock. Als Hauptverursacher allergischer Erkrankungen wurden Aeroallergene wie verschiedene Baum- und Gräserpollen, Pilzsporen, Hausstaubmilben und verschiedene Tierhaarallergene identifiziert. Darüber hinaus haben auch Lebensmittelallergien in letzter Zeit stark zugenommen. Ein ursächlicher Zusammenhang zwischen Pollen- und Lebensmittelallergien konnte in einigen Fällen über die Kreuzreaktion der beteiligten Allergie-auslösenden Proteine nachgewiesen werden. Weniger untersucht ist der Zusammenhang zwischen Allergien und Umweltverschmutzung (Feinstaub). Es gibt einige Arbeiten die darauf hinweisen, dass eine erhöhte Sensibilisierung auf Allergien durch eine erhöhte Feinstaubbelastung hervorgerufen wird und andererseits, dass gewisse Allergiequellen durch eine erhöhte Feinstaubbelastung in einer aggressiveren/reaktiveren Form auftreten. Das Projekt hat zum Ziel, den Zusammenhang zwischen verbreiteten allergieauslösenden Substanzen und der Feinstaubbelastung zu untersuchen.
Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, USA
Role of Environmental Chemical Exposures in the Development of Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome. (PI: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Kevin Francesconi)
In diesem Projekt welches gemeinsam mit der Montanuniversität Leoben und Joanneum Research durchgeführt wird, werden die Schwermetallströme in der Kläranlage Leoben über einen gesamten Jahresgang in vier Intensivbeprobungsphasen erfasst. Ziel dieser Studie ist es herauszufinden woher die Elemente Zink, Kupfer, Chrom, Blei, Nickel, Cadmium und Quecksilber im Endprodukt Kompost stammen. Ein Hauptaugenmerk liegt dabei auf Nickel, da die Gegend um Leoben laut dem geochemischen Atlas als Nickel-Hotspot gilt.
Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, USA
Background: Despite suggestive experimental and epidemiologic evidence at high-chronic arsenic exposure (=100 µg/L in drinking water), the effects of low and moderate chronic arsenic exposure on cardiovascular and diabetes risk are unknown. In the US, naturally occurring arsenic in drinking water disproportionately affects rural communities of the Western States, including Native Americans.
Objective: Evaluation of the association of inorganic arsenic exposure, as determined by the sum of inorganic and methylated arsenic species in urine, and arsenic biotransformation with the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in 4,549 Native Americans who participated in the Strong Heart Study. (PI: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Kevin Francesconi)
FWF project P16088-N03
The project aims to gain a better understanding of the types and distribution of arsenic compounds present in human foods, with the view of safeguarding human health. A focus of the work is the development of new analytical methods based on HPLC/mass spectrometry to identify and quantify arsenic compounds. In particular, novel groups of arsenicals such as arsenolipids and thio-arsenicals present in some foods are being investigated. The human metabolism of these novel species will also be studied. (PI: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Kevin Francesconi)
FWF project P16816-N11
Arsenosugars are significant arsenic constituents of many seafoods, but their metabolism and toxicology is not known. The project is investigating the urinary metabolites produced by humans after controlled exposure to these compounds. The analytical methods are predominantly HPLC/mass spectrometry, but this project also contains a large synthetic chemistry component. Chemical synthesis is essential in order to prepare pure arsenical starting materials. In addition, the metabolites detected by our analytical methods are often novel compounds, and hence pure, characterised material must be synthesised to confirm structural assignments and to provide sufficient sample for toxicological testing. Selenium-containing sugars (selenosugars) have also recently been identified in human urine. The analytical and synthetic requirements are similar to those required for arsenosugars, and we are concurrently investigating aspects of selenium metabolism in humans. (PI: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Kevin Francesconi)
OMV project "MERCURY- FOLLOW UP"
Mercury and its compounds naturally occur in hydrocarbons as a result of their geogenesis. Depending on the origin of the hydrocarbons high concentrations of mercury can be observed in fuel products, especially natural gas. Mercury in natural gas received particular attention in industry not only because it damages aluminium equipment and catalysts but also from an environmental point of view.The project focuses on trace metal compounds in gaseous and liquid hydrocarbons with emphasis on mercury. In order to develop efficient removal strategies trace metals and trace metal compounds along the hydrocarbon processing have to be determined. Therefore, proper sampling strategies and analytical methods to determine the mercury speciation are developed during this project. The project is funded for two years by OMV Exploration & Production GmbH.
The ASHRAM project is a cancer case-control study carried out in parts of Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. In some districts of these three countries, there are populations with significant cumulative exposure to arsenic. There is fairly widespread ongoing exposure above the limit of 10 µg/L, and in some areas continued exposure above 50 µ/L. For many people living within the study areas, the main sources of drinking water include wells or standpipes located in the street or village square. Many of these sources have provided drinking water over many years, and often serve whole communities. Exposure may occur where wells have been drilled into aquifers containing arsenic, or where water has had elevated concentrations of arsenic in the past.For 1200 cases and 600 controls, estimates of cumulative dose will be constructed and cancer risks will be estimated in relation to arsenic intake, adjusting for potential confounding by diet, tobacco and occupation. The impact on risk of individual differences in arsenic metabolism, DNA repair and diet will be assessed. For sub groups of the population more detailed analyses of inter-individual differences in speciation, the effect of other nutrients and minerals, and specific polymorphisms will inform models of metabolism. Risk management will be explored for those with the highest continuing exposure.ASHRAM will improve quantitative risk assessments, understanding of mechanisms of arsenic toxicity and communication among European researchers in this field. In order to achieve this, ASHRAM is split into 10 Work packages including a pan-European meeting devoted to the subject of arsenic and health.