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Judit Smits

Position: 

Professor
Ecosystem and Public Health (EPH)

Contact Information: 

+1 (403) 210-7407
TRW 2D18
judit.smits@ucalgary.ca

Research / Scholarly Activities: 

My research interests are founded in ecotoxicology and the impact that environmental contaminants have on human and animal health.  I study wildlife for their own sake, and also because they can serve as sentinels of pollutant effects on health, since there are many similarities in the way that toxicants affect the well-being of warm blooded vertebrates.  This is what makes animal research relevant to both human and animal medicine, allowing me to explore anthropogenic factors that affect the conservation of healthy ecosystems. A healthy ecosystem, by definition, includes the health of animals, humans and their environment (air, water, soil).  

My most recent area of toxicology research is towards mitigating chronic arsenic toxicity (arsenicosis) in mammals using biofortified food.  Arsenicosis is estimated to affect 50 to 100 million people worldwide, with the World Health Organization declaring it to be the largest human toxicity problem on the globe.  My earlier work with laboratory animals has shown numerous, measurable benefits from high selenium diets to counteract subclinical signs/symptoms of arsenic poisoning.  These results lead to my current efforts working with international agencies on a human clinical trial in arsenic-affected regions of the world.

Another continuing research interest of mine has involved birds including passerines, waterfowl and gulls, storks, vultures and raptors.  Other classes of vertebrates with which I work are amphibians and carnivores.   Much of my research occurs through graduate students and postcdoctoral fellows, spanning wide geographic areas including numerous sites across Canada, Bangladesh, Spain, Argentina and South Africa.

Specific research areas:

  • Effectiveness of a diet-based solution to help ameliorate the global problem of arsenic toxicity – focus currently on an arsenic- affected population in rural Bangladesh
  • Reducing arsenic toxicity in laboratory mammals using diets made from naturally high selenium lentils.
  • Disease resistance and related immunotoxicity in wild birds from exposure to environmental contaminants
  • Developing and validating noninvasive hormonal biomarkers and evaluating parasitic burdens as reflections of health in populations of wild carnivores.
  • Immunological, reproductive and hormonal impacts of oil sands’ mining effluent and air contaminants on raptors, passerines, amphibians and small mammals.
  • Oxidative stress as a true indicator of subclinical toxicology in contaminant-exposed animals

My Arsenic Research:

Research personnel and trainees : 

Graduate Students:

  • Evana Akhtar (PhD candidate); Dietary intervention to reduce chronic arsenic poisoning in a human population
  • Michelle North (PhD candidate ); Toxicology of airborne pollutants associated with urban air contaminants in avian wildlife.

Post-Doctoral Fellows

  • Regina Krohn (PDF);  i) Molecular toxicology of arsenic, and potential detoxification with selenium and folate.  ii) dietary study to counteract arsenic toxicity in humans 
  • Jaime Rodriguez-Estival (PDF);  Reproductive and physiological impacts of oil sands contaminants (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals) on native small mammals.