Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Texas A&M Receives Funding for Studies on Disparities in Use of Online Health Resources and Antibiotic Contamination in Soils

Two new public health research projects will go forward with funding awarded through the PESCA Grant Program. These projects, one on disparities in the use of online health resources and another on the effects of antibiotic contamination in soils, each received 25,000 dollars that can be used over the next 12 months to cover the costs of research resources, travel and other expenses. PESCA grants are awarded to projects that show the potential to gain additional external funding from foundations, government agencies or other organizations.

[Photo: Dr. Alicia Hong (left), Dr. Virender Sharma (center), and Dr. Itza Mendoza-Sanchez]

Dr. Alicia Hong, associate professor of Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, is joined by Dr. Xinsheng Liu, of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M and Dr. Huiyan Sang, of the Texas A&M Department of Statistics in an investigation into inequalities in the use of online health resources, or the digital divide, and health disparities, behavior and policy impact over the past 10 years. Online health, or eHealth, resources have become common in recent years and are expected to increase in the future. These resources include health information websites and patient portals as well as widely available health apps via smart phones and wearable mobile devices that allow patients to communicate with medical providers and each other. Although most Americans have internet access and mobile phones, those who do not are missing a growing and crucial part of the overall health care picture.

Using data from the past 10 years, Hong and her colleagues are trying to answer the question of how eHealth behaviors and the digital divide affect health disparities, so as to provide evidence for policy making on eHealth resources allocation.

Another major public health issue is the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which have been turning up at an increased rate over the past 20 years. Drug-resistant pathogens are a growing concern, leading scientists and policy makers to start considering which drugs to retain for last-line human use. Although often associated with hospitals, antibiotic-resistance infections can be acquired from exposure to environments enriched with resistant bacteria. Antibiotic disposal, wastewater reuse and agricultural use of antibiotics can increase drug concentrations in the soil. This can significantly contribute to selection of resistant bacteria in the environment and lead to high risk of exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria or pathogens.

To combat this risk, researchers need to know how widespread this contamination is. Predicting risks to human health is impossible without improved knowledge of antibiotic concentrations in the environment. Dr. Itza Mendoza-Sanchez,  research assistant professor, and Dr. Virender Sharma, professor, both in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the School of Public Health and their research colleagues, Dr. Robin Autenrieth, of the Civil Engineering Department as well as Carmen Gomes and Dr. R. Karthikarteyan,  of the Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department, plan to develop that knowledge through their PESCA-grant awarded project. Their aims are to correlate soil antibiotic concentrations with changes in bacteria populations and selection of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and to develop a mathematical model to better understand how antibiotics are transported in contaminated soils and how that selects for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The key outcome of this study will be tools that will enable researchers to predict the range and severity at which contaminant antibiotic in soils contribute to enrichment of resistant bacteria.

These two projects are taking on pressing public health issues and with the questions they answer researchers plan to delve further into these subjects. With PESCA grant funding, these research teams can build preliminary findings that will help with the pursuit of further study and additional funding that will make it possible to better understand these issues and help solve big health challenges.