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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

Ohio State Faculty Member’s Work on Establishing Objective Measures for Sexual Exposure Rewarded with $100,000 Research Grant

When asked about why she decided to work in public health, Dr. Maria Gallo, associate professor of epidemiology at The Ohio State University College of Public Health, thought back to when she was a Peace Corps volunteer in a small village in Nicaragua about 20 years ago. Dr. Gallo witnessed that people fell ill with a “mysterious hemorrhagic fever.” Until a team from the Centers for Disease Control arrived and identified the outbreak of leptospirosis, the cause was unknown.

[Photo: Dr. Maria Gallo with Health Care Team at Hanoi Hospital in Vietnam]

Dr. Gallo says that “seeing a field investigation unfold in real life was powerful.”

That experience has since germinated into years of research focused on understanding, measuring, and preventing risky sexual behavior and related outcomes, such as HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, unexpected pregnancies, and unsafe abortions.

Dr. Gallo’s research received a boost this month with news that she was selected for a $100,000 Bill & Melinda Gates Grand Challenges Explorations Award. The funding will support Dr. Gallo’s research to “adapt a validated computer-based psychological test known as the Implicit Association Test to measure the implicit opinions of women in Vietnam on hormonal contraceptives in order to encourage use.”

With the Gates award, Dr. Gallo will begin a new project that will build off of her previous research. Dr. Gallo explains that “in this new study, we will extend a validated computer-based psychological test—the Implicit Association Test (IAT)—to collect implicit measures of beliefs about contraceptive safety and naturalness.”  The IAT is available online and is used to measure racial prejudices.

[Photo: Dr. Maria Gallo with members of the research team in front of the Reproductive Health Center in Thanh Hoa, Vietnam]

For her new project, Dr. Gallo will be collaborating with the Harold E. Burtt Chair and professor in the department of psychology at Ohio State, Dr. Russell Fazio. Dr. Fazio was one of the first to examine implicit bias and to show that attitudes could influence behavior even if they are unaware of it. Physician researcher Dr. Nghia Nguyen will lead the data collection among contraception users and non-users in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Most of Dr. Gallo’s research involves testing behavioral or biomedical interventions in randomized controlled trials. Dr. Gallo conducts her research in low-resource communities in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. She believes that the most important factor for carrying out successful, rigorous, relevant, and ethical research is having strong local partners in other countries.

Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 1,228 projects in more than 65 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required.

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