Campus: Long Beach -- February 6, 2006

Swedish Student at Cal State Long Beach Earns Prestigious Sweden-America Research Fellowship

Rebecca Hagstrom, a Swedish student earning her master's in biology at California State University, Long Beach, is studying the effects of environmentally-associated increases in female sex steroids in male flatfish of Southern California ocean waters.

Her research is funded for the 2005-06 academic year by a fellowship valued at 125,000 Swedish crowns ($15,000-$18,000) from the Sweden-American Foundation, one of Sweden's most prestigious scientific and cultural exchange organizations. The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, founded by a former Swedish minister of foreign affairs, provided funds for her grant to the larger foundation.

The foundation awarded 39 fellowships valued at 5 million Swedish crowns to 16 women and 23 men for higher education research in the United States and Canada. Hagstrom said she was honored that her work at Cal State Long Beach was deemed on par with other fellowship recipients from universities such as Yale, Stanford, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and UC Berkeley.

Hagstrom has been in California for eight years. "I (first) enrolled in a Swedish university up north, which is very cold. When they told me they had great marine biology schools here in California, I thought I had to try that out, and I have learned so much. I went to Santa Monica College first and then I came here."

She earned her bachelor's of science degree in marine biology at CSULB in 2003, and then joined the laboratory of Dr. Kevin Kelley, a CSULB endocrinology professor who is involved in a major regional study of how effluent deposited at sea from Southland sewage treatment plants is affecting fish populations.

The human female hormone estradiol is being found in fish caught by scientists from local water treatment agencies both in Santa Monica Bay and offshore of Orange County. While studies are showing that sewage effluent indeed contains hormones excreted by humans, it's also believed that certain chemicals might mimic hormonal effects.

"My specific thesis is investigating the gene expression of two steroidogenic enzymes that may be involved in the elevated estradiol levels that we found in male flatfish from Santa Monica, but not from Orange County," she explained. "I'm actually doing a regional comparison between Santa Monica and Orange County. The male fish that we found in Orange County have lower levels of the female hormone than the male fish in Santa Monica."

As an undergraduate, Hagstrom served an internship with the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP), a joint powers agency that coordinates environmental studies for area sanitation districts. "I became aware of the endocrine disruption problem through SCCWRP and introduced them to Dr. Kelley and my lab friend [CSULB graduate student Jesus Reyes] whom I then found out had discovered elevated estradiol levels in male flatfish. So I got interested and while SCCWRP became a collaborator with my lab, I became a graduate student with Dr Kelley. I always saw myself as a marine conservation biologist, but nowadays you almost have to go down to the molecular level to get a definitive answer.

"My goal is to graduate in a year and a half," she continued. "I hope to stay here for a year to gain some more experience because it's such a big country and has more resources. I've learned so much, and I want to maximize my learning opportunities here. Then, I'm thinking about going back home to Sweden," where she would like to work with research groups similar to SCCWRP. "I've seen what organizations like that can do and it's really nice that everyone is working together on a common problem."

Media Contacts:
Anne Ambrose, (562) 985-2582, aambrose@csulb.edu
Rick Gloady, (562) 985-5454, rgloady@csulb.edu


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