Rebecca Fry Receives 2021 SOT Translational Impact Award


By Brian Cummings posted 01-28-2021 16:00


Rebecca Fry, PhD

Rebecca Fry, PhD, has been awarded the 2021 SOT Translational Impact Award for her outstanding vision for and leadership of several multidisciplinary team efforts to use translational research and community engagement to promote public health in the area of developmental toxicants.

Dr. Fry is a biologist by training, leading her laboratory to understand the role of the epigenome as a key integrator between the environment and disease. She received her PhD in biology from Tulane University in 2000 and performed postdoctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She currently serves as the Carol Remmer Angle Distinguished Professor in Children’s Environmental Health and the Associate Chair in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the Gillings School for Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). In addition to these roles, Dr. Fry directs both the UNC Institute for Environmental Health Solutions and the UNC Superfund Research Program.

Dr. Fry has focused a significant amount of her environmental health career on protecting populations from the harms of toxic substances. To understand mechanisms of toxicity with public health relevance, Dr. Fry’s laboratory uses transdisciplinary approaches—including human population–based research, cell culture–based research, and mouse model–based research. These combined approaches refine the understanding of chemical exposure and toxicity. Dr. Fry’s lab has published on a host of toxic substances, leading to the identification of epigenetic mechanisms that relate toxic substances to pregnancy complications, children’s health outcomes, and cancer outcomes.

Some of Dr. Fry’s most notable translational research includes her focus on the prevention of exposure to inorganic arsenic during pregnancy, as the protection of pregnant women and the developing infant have been a particular focus of her work. The significant public health issue of inorganic arsenic in North Carolina drinking water provided the basis for Dr. Fry to build a multidisciplinary team, the newly funded UNC Superfund Research Program, aimed at preventing inorganic arsenic–induced diabetes. This team has carried out extensive work with a direct influence on public health, deploying strategies to protect North Carolina communities at risk of consuming contaminated drinking water.

Dr. Fry also has provided information critical to the issue of cadmium-induced toxicity in the placenta and preeclampsia, showing that cadmium levels in the placenta are associated with increased risk for preeclampsia. To understand the mechanisms underlying this toxicity, Dr. Fry’s lab focused on elucidating the biological pathways by which cadmium influences placental growth and invasion. Her team identified microRNAs as critical regulators of trophoblast growth and invasion.

Beyond metals, some of Dr. Fry’s most recent translational work examines the effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on pregnancy and placental toxicity. Focusing on a pregnancy cohort in North Carolina, her team identified risk factors associated with PFAS exposure. Exploring the toxicity associated with PFAS, the team recently highlighted that the mechanisms include the reduced capacity of the placental cells to invade.

Dr. Fry joined SOT in 2010 and is a member and Past President of the SOT Metals Specialty Section. She has published more than 170 journal articles and is the editor and co-author of several books on environmental toxicology and epigenetics. She has participated in multiple advisory committees and expert panels and has served as a reviewer for the US Food and Drug Administration and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.