School news (Spring, 2009)
May 08, 2009
The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated the Department of Maternal and Child Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as its newest Collaborating Center.
“The center will help the United Nations agency use the strongest and most comprehensive available research to promote and improve global reproductive health,” said Herbert B. Peterson, MD, Kenan Distinguished professor and chair of the maternal and child health department and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UNC School of Medicine.
“This is a classic win-win situation,” said Peterson, who will direct the new center. “We’re helping WHO achieve its global mission to promote cutting-edge reproductive polices, programs and practices, and it gives UNC the opportunity to lead the way in translating research into practice — which is one of the strengths of the Gillings School of Global Public Health.”
The Global Breastfeeding Institute at Carolina, led by Miriam Labbok, MD, professor of the practice of public health in the department, will be part of the collaborating center, helping to discover and promote best practices for feeding infants worldwide.
Barry Popkin, PhD, Carla Smith Chamblee Distinguished Professor of nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of the UNC Interdisciplinary Obesity Center, has been interviewed by major news organizations all over the world about his book, published in January. The World is Fat: The Fads, Trends, Policies and Products That Are Fattening the Human Race chronicles the worldwide rise in obesity, a phenomenon Popkin attributes more to technology, globalization, government policies and food industry practices than gluttony or sloth.
In the book, Popkin argues that sweetened beverages and processed foods are the primary culprits in our ever-expanding world. Add the decline in physical activity and a trend toward supersized meals and snacks away from home, and it becomes clear why our collective health has begun to suffer. News outlets from U.S. News & World Report to The New York Times to National Public Radio have written about his book and his studies.
Popkin was again in high demand by media around the world after publication of an editorial in March 23 edition of the journal, Archives of Internal Medicine. In the editorial, Popkin says the impact of eating too much red meat is not just on the individual (increased risk of cancer, heart disease, etc.), but the rising consumption of meat, poultry and dairy products, particularly in countries like India and China, is substantially increasing the burden on the world’s water and energy resources and having a significant impact on climate change.
Four new Gillings Innovation Laboratories have been awarded, on topics as diverse as treating hog waste more efficiently and effectively, developing new methods for genetic research, determining the risks and benefits of drugs for older adults and developing a global seamless classroom. All of these research projects have potential to benefit people across North Carolina and around the world. These projects are funded by proceeds from the Gillings gift, managed by Carolina Public Health Solutions (CPHS).
Don Holzworth, chairman of Futures Group International, has been named an “executive in residence” at the Gillings School of Global Public Health. Holzworth is advising groups and individuals, including faculty and students, on matters such as strategic planning for potentially high impact areas including obesity, water and environment, global health and overcoming health disparities and the identification of potential funding partners.
Also, the Gillings gift will fund a meeting of some of the world’s leading scientists to evaluate the link between population and the achievement of key international development goals and objectives. Herbert Peterson, MD, Kenan Distinguished professor and chair of the department of maternal and child health and professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the UNC School of Medicine, is leading the project.
Read more online about programs and research supported through Carolina Public Health Solutions at www.sph.unc.edu/accelerate.
More than 500 people attended the 30th annual Minority Health Conference Feb.27, presented by the School’s Minority Student Caucus. For the first time in the conference’s history, student organizations at five other schools of public health organized events in conjunction with the UNC conference. Each of these schools joined the conference by Internet, as did hundreds of other viewers. These student-led events took place at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Boston University, Tulane University, University of California at Berkeley and University of California at Los Angeles.
Barbara C. Wallace, PhD, professor of health education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, was keynote speaker. A licensed psychologist, Wallace is active in health disparities research at Columbia and around the world. She is director of Globe HELP (Health Education Leadership Program), an Internet-based venture for the dissemination of curricula to peer educators and community health workers. Her lecture, “Our World, Our Community: Building Bridges for Health Equality,” is available online at www.minority.unc.edu.
The evening before the conference, at an alumni reception, planned by the Minority Student Caucus and the Office of External Affairs, several alumni and supporters of the conference were recognized. These included Delton Atkinson, Dorothy Browne, Geni Eng, Rudy Jackson and Bill Jenkins. They also were recognized at Friday’s conference.
In March, North Carolina Public Radio/WUNC-FM 91.5 began airing a special series of reports highlighting the public health connections between North Carolina and southeastern Africa. The pilot series was funded by a gift from Carolina Public Health Solutions, part of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.
“North Carolina Voices: Global Health Connections” examined research and service projects organized by North Carolinians abroad. The first installment focused on Malawi and Zambia, two of the world’s poorest countries.
William McDonough, world-renowned architect and Time magazine’s Hero of the Environment in 2007, presented the Fred T. Foard Jr. Memorial Lecture on April 1. McDonough is founding principal of William McDonough + Partners, Architecture and Community Design, and co-author, with Michael Braungart, of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. The talk described “Cradle to Cradle Design,” a model for building and development that mimics and protects nature’s systems.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Vanderbilt University Medical Center have synthetically reconstructed the bat variant of the SARS coronavirus (CoV) that caused the SARS epidemic of 2003. The scientists say designing and synthesizing the virus is a major step forward in their ability to find effective vaccines and treatments for any strain of SARS virus that might affect humans in the future.
A report of the work appeared in November in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ Early Edition, which publishes papers online and later in print.
“Only three other teams of researchers have synthetically reconstructed a virus. In this case, we reconstructed the likely progenitor of the SARS-CoV epidemic,” said Ralph Baric, PhD, epidemiology professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and one of the leaders on the project.
“The bat SARS virus is about four times larger than any other virus that has been synthesized to date,” Baric said. “It will allow us to test the pathways in which the virus emerges and understand the ways that animal coronaviruses move from one species to another.”
The School’s faculty members have received more than $123 million in research awards during this fiscal year. Here are a few examples:
Frieda Behets, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the School, received a grant from the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation to study best practices in the fight against pediatric AIDS. Behets will work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to increase the efficacy of programs designed to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
The Glaser Foundation, a world leader in the fight against pediatric AIDS, has provided $1.25 million in operations research grants to five awardees for studies in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
The Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center (CSCC) in the Department of Biostatistics, was selected by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to coordinate a study of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The contract spans seven years, and the total award is $8,192,632.
CSCC will be the Genomics and Informatics Center (GIC) for the SubPopulations and InteRmediate Outcome Measures in COPD Study (SPIROMICS). SPIROMICS supports the prospective collection and analysis of phenotypic, biomarker, genetic, genomic and clinical data from subjects with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for the purpose of identifying patient subpopulations and surrogate markers for use in future clinical trials.
The award is the result of successful cross-campus collaboration at UNC, with contributing faculty from the CSCC and Department of Biostatistics in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, the departments of medicine and bioinformatics in the School of Medicine, and the School of Information and Library Science. Lisa LaVange, PhD, director of the CSCC and professor of the practice of biostatistics, is the principal investigator for the GIC.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded UNC’s Carolina Population Center (CPC) up to $181 million to continue its MEASURE Evaluation project. Sian Curtis, PhD, and Gustavo Angeles, PhD, faculty members in the School’s department of maternal and child health, will be program leaders.
The award is the largest ever received by UNC.
The award funds the monitoring and evaluation of family planning, maternal and child health, nutrition and HIV/AIDS programs around the world. The project also monitors and evaluates malaria, tuberculosis and avian influenza programs, and will expand to include programs addressing poverty and gender equity.
Going into its third phase, MEASURE Evaluation builds on the previous two phases of the project and the earlier EVALUATION project which began in 1991. The project already has a presence in nearly 50 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America and will expand to more. Besides the $181 million of project funding in this grant, the award includes the potential for countries to request evaluation activities valued at up to an additional $125 million over the five years.
The MEASURE (Monitoring and Evaluation to Assess and Use Results) Evaluation project uses different strategies to collect and use data about health issues. For example, a tool for assessing and modifying HIV/AIDS prevention programs locally or nationally — called the Priorities for Local AIDS Efforts (PLACE) method — can identify geographic areas that contain key HIV transmission networks.
The PLACE method was developed by Sharon Weir, PhD, research assistant professor of epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and a CPC fellow.
Andrew Olshan, PhD, professor and chair of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, has received a $4.9 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the causes of birth defects.
The grant provides five years of funding for research that will be coordinated by the N.C. Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, which contributes data to the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. The study is an ongoing project that collects information from nine states, including North Carolina, on the pregnancies of mothers of children with and without birth defects. It is one of the largest epidemiological efforts ever undertaken in the United States to identify environmental and genetic causes of birth defects.
Olshan also was awarded a grant worth nearly $2.9 million from the National Cancer Institute to study the causes of neuroblastoma.
The most common cancer in babies, neuroblastoma develops from nerve cells found in several areas of the body and most commonly affects children aged 5 or younger. The five-year study will investigate the disease’s causes, with a focus on mothers’ diets and supplemental vitamin intake during pregnancy.
Olshan leads the cancer epidemiology program of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and is research professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery in the UNC School of Medicine.
The School’s North Carolina Institute for Public Health has been awarded an $8.5 million, five-year grant to create a new research center focused on conducting research related to public health preparedness and emergency response in North Carolina. Researchers will evaluate disease surveillance and reporting systems, emergency alerting systems, regional response systems and the effects of health department accreditation on preparedness and response capacities.
The institute was selected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lead one of seven new Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Centers. The center at UNC will be known as the North Carolina Public Health Preparedness Systems Research Center.
Carolina Public Health is a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. To view previous issues, please visit www.sph.unc.edu/cph.