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Andres Cardenas standing in front of a white backdrop.

Rising environmental health scientist receives Young Alumni Award

By Mary Hare

Andres Cardenas (B.S. '10) is the 2020 recipient of the Young Alumni Award.

Andres Cardenas (B.S. '10), a trailblazer in devising epidemiological and molecular approaches to understand how environmental exposures affect disease, has received the 2020 Young Alumni Award from the College of Science. The award recognizes exceptional achievements in career, public service, and/or volunteer activities in nominees less than 10 years from their most recent degree.

An assistant professor in residence at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and Center for Computational Biology, his research group focuses on epigenetic aging biomarkers – biological markers of aging that leverage epigenetic changes throughout time. He hopes to broaden understanding of how environmental exposures – including air pollution, heavy metals and social factors – accelerate these epigenetic clocks in humans.

Cardenas credits the strong support he has received from Oregon State faculty and staff for the success he has achieved since graduating. Native to Costa Rica, Cardenas spent nearly eight years on the Corvallis campus earning his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and biophysics, a master’s degree in biostatistics and Ph.D. in environmental health science.

“Oregon State was key,” he said. “I cannot emphasize that enough.”

Last October, Cardenas was awarded the Outstanding New Environmental Scientist (ONES) grant by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The award provides five years of support for his groundbreaking research on the effects that air pollution, exposure to heavy metals and diet have on the health of newborns and young children, and whether they play a role in the origins of diseases contracted later in life.

More recently, Cardenas led a study in collaboration with NASA that investigated the long-term effects of space travel. Reviewing data from the six participants of the Mars-500 mission, a simulated space travel and residence experiment, they observed for the first time that, on an epigenetic level, astronauts age more slowly during simulated long-term space travel.

In space, people experience environmental stressors like microgravity, cosmic radiation and social isolation – all which can impact aging. During the Mars-500 experiment, the six participants stayed in an isolated space and lived as if they were on Mars for 520 days. Since the experiment did not replicate the effects of cosmic radiation and microgravity, the slower aging process was solely explained by the epigenetic effects of social isolation. These findings will be valuable for understanding the health implications of future space travel, which Cardenas believes will be imminent.

Cardenas will return to Oregon State on November 15 for the College of Science Alumni Award ceremony.

Read more about Cardenas’ inspiring journey and novel research projects here.