Project 2

"mRAPiD: Mobile Responding to Air Pollution in Disasters"

Natalie Johnson, Carolyn Cannon, and Allen Robinson will develop novel tools to rapidly characterize pediatric respiratory risks from exposure to hazardous volatile organic compound (VOC) mixtures. VOC emissions following natural and anthropogenic disasters are increasingly recognized, as exemplified along the Texas Gulf Coast following Hurricane Harvey and ITC fire. The team will carry out hyperlocal VOC mapping using state-of-the-art mobile air monitoring in Houston neighborhoods. These real-world data will inform rapid hazard identification of VOC mixtures using air-liquid interface (ALI) in vitro models, including a standard human bronchial epithelial cell line (16HBE) and primary pediatric lung epithelial cells to inform population variable responses. These responses will inform mechanistic studies probing the role of epithelial-derived extracellular vesicle (EV) proteomic changes from VOC exposures indicative of respiratory dysfunction underlying asthma risk.


Children living near Superfund sites are at high risk for inhalation exposures to hazardous VOCs, especially following environmental disasters. Since mechanisms underlying the role of VOCs in asthma pathogenesis are poorly understood, this project will develop an age-appropriate, population-based in vitro pediatric airway model to rapidly characterize respiratory risks and determine the role of EVs in response to VOC exposures. Using a highly sensitive, untargeted mobile air sampling approach, ambient VOC mixtures are highly spatially resolved to support real-world toxicity testing and disaster research response.

Principal Investigators:


Specific aims:

  1. Develop an in vitro pediatric airway model to rapidly characterize respiratory risks from hazardous VOCs/mixtures.  We will compare responses to VOCs/mixtures in a standard bronchial epithelial cell line (16HBE) with primary pediatric lunch epithelial cells from donors grown and differentiated at air-liquid interface.
  2. Determine the functional role of VOC-associated proteomic changes in epithelial-derived extracellular vesicles (EVs). We will interogate functional EV-driven proteomic changes in response to VOCs/mixtures by isolating EVs from the apical surface of ALI models.
  3. Characterize ambient VOC mixtures. Using our mRAPid (mobile responding to air pollution in disasters) van housing an ultra-sensitive trace gas analyzer, we will conduct mobile air sampling in Houston communities at high risk for exposure during baseline and in response to potential disasters.  Data will inform toxicity testing and mechanistic studies (Aims 1 and 2) and afford the opportunity to conduct direct ambient exposures onboard our mobile laboratory.