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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

UNC Researchers Awarded Impact Funding to Collaborate on Improving Environmental Health

Three teams led by researchers from RTI International and the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health have received funding from the Initiative to Maximize Partnerships and Catalyze Teamwork (IMPACT) for work on projects that will improve environmental health.

Co-principal investigators from the Gillings School include environmental sciences and engineering (ESE) faculty members Dr. Rebecca Fry, Carol Remmer Angle Distinguished Professor and director of the Gillings School’s Institute for Environmental Health Solutions; Dr. William Vizuete, associate professor, and Dr. Jill Stewart, associate professor and director of the UNC Galapagos Initiative/Center for Galapagos Studies.

Other Gillings School team members, all from ESE, are Dr. Kun Lu, associate professor, doctoral student Ms. Martha Scott Tomlinson, Dr. Karsten Baumann, assistant professor, Dr. Jason Surratt, professor, Dr. Mark Sobsey, Kenan Distinguished Professor, Dr. Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, associate professor; Dr. Jamie Bartram, Don and Jennifer Holzworth Distinguished Professor, Dr. Michael Fisher, assistant professor; Dr. Emanuele Sozzi, research associate, Ms. Margie Mazzarella, proposals coordinator at The Water Institute at UNC, based in ESE, and doctoral student Ms. Alyssa Grube.

The teams will receive up to $250,000 each over the course of two years.

The projects are:

Children’s Environmental Solutions Study

Toxic metals are polluting the environment in North Carolina from both geogenic sources and industry-caused contamination. Preliminary research suggests that these metals likely harm the developing fetus.

Addressing the need for a minimally invasive way to assess children’s exposure to environmental contaminants, the project will focus on the use of dried blood spots as a means of assessing toxic metal exposure and biomarkers. The team will leverage the ongoing study, Environment, Perinatal Outcomes and Children’s Health (EPOCH), which is based at UNC’s high-risk pregnancy clinic and includes women from throughout North Carolina.

Dr. Rebecca Fry (Gillings School), and Dr. Keith Levine (RTI), are co-principal investigators. 

Toxicity of Complex Aerosols from Wood Burning Cook Stoves

In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), exposure to wood burning cookstoves emissions causes 2.8 million premature deaths. Emissions from cookstoves consist of airborne particulate matter (PM), various volatile organic compounds (VOC) and other harmful gases. When released into the ambient environment, these emissions can undergo photochemical transformations. While many epidemiological and toxicological studies have focused separately on the adverse health effects of exposures either to gas-phase pollutants or PM, much less is known about the combined effects and their interaction with other pollutants.

The proposed study seeks to gather data from fresh and photochemically aged particles/gasses to better understand the scientific drivers of health impacts from cookstove emissions, thereby laying the foundation to inform field studies that will drive intervention and policy changes.

The project is led by ESE associate professor Dr. William Vizuete and Dr. Prakash Doraiswamy, from RTI.

Surveillance, Modeling, Analytics and Risk Assessment Tool for Evidence-Responsive Antimicrobial Resistance Management

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) poses a critical and growing threat to global health. The “One Health” approach — that is, understanding the interconnected roles of people, animals and the environment — is vital to combating the emergence and spread of AMR. However, a lack of or poorly integrated surveillance and monitoring data have made it difficult to produce evidence needed to identify and address critical AMR sources, hotspots, and exposure routes; conduct meaningful risk assessments; or prioritize potential management options.

The team seeks to develop and pilot the first integrated and scalable regional One Health monitoring, analysis and decision support tool designed for local actors and policy makers who need to assess AMR hazards and prioritize interventions to control risk.

The project team is led by Dr. Jill Stewart,  from the Gillings School and Dr. Elisabetta Lambertini, of RTI.

“These projects address key risk factors for adverse health globally and in North Carolina,” said Dr. Barbara Turpin, professor and chair of the Gillings School’s department of environmental sciences and engineering. “We are grateful to have collaborative faculty that apply innovative tools to address emerging issues in public health.”

IMPACT builds upon a long history of collaboration between RTI and the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. The initiative was formed in 2017, and the seed fund was launched in May 2018.

Matching funding for two of the projects — Dr. Fry’s and Dr. Stewart’s — generously will be provided by the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory.

“This recent partnership between the Gillings School and the Collaboratory represents the 15th award, bringing total Collaboratory funding for Gillings School  faculty members to more than $2 million since 2017 for critical research projects across North Carolina,” said Dr. Jeffrey D. Warren, research director for the Collaboratory. “From water- and air-quality research to investigating the impacts of Hurricanes Florence and Matthew, our relationship with the Gillings School  has been critical in carrying out the Collaboratory’s legislative mandate to utilize faculty expertise across the UNC System to help the N.C. General Assembly better understand and manage our State’s vast natural resources.”

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[Photo: UNC project leaders are (l-r) Dr. Rebecca Fry, Dr. William Vizuete and Dr. Jill Stewart.]