NIH renews UNC Gillings environmental health sciences training grant for ninth time

July 19, 2017

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has renewed one of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s major training grants for the amount of $1,406,501, thereby recognizing the School’s ongoing innovation and leadership. UNC’s program, titled “Biostatistics for Research in Environmental Health,” supports 23 doctoral and five postdoctoral scholars in biostatistics, epidemiology and environmental sciences and engineering.

Dr. Rebecca Fry

Dr. Rebecca Fry

“This award is absolutely critical for providing support to our rising stars in environmental health sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill,” said Rebecca Fry, PhD, professor of environmental sciences and engineering, director of the UNC Superfund Research Program and one of the grant program directors.

Dr. Stephanie Engel

Dr. Stephanie Engel

“We are incredibly grateful to the NIEHS for their longstanding support of the outstanding interdisciplinary environmental training program at the Gillings School,” added Stephanie Engel, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and a co-principal investigator. “These fellowships enable our students to undertake cutting-edge research focused on improving the health of our local and global communities, with the support and mentorship of world-class scientists.”

The NIEHS-funded grant originally was awarded to the esteemed Bernard G. Greenberg, PhD, back in 1971. Greenberg was founding chair of the UNC biostatistics department and dean of the Gillings School from 1972 to 1982. Since that time, other faculty members have led the grant’s efforts – including now-emeritus faculty member Lawrence Kupper, PhD, who directed the program for more than 30 years.

“This is one of the most successful training programs ever supported by NIH,” Kupper said. “Many graduates of this training program are nationally recognized leaders, and many have significantly affected national environmental policy with regard to protecting human health. They are also creatively addressing ever more complicated research challenges in such areas as gene-environment interactions and reproductive and children’s health.”

Dr. Haibo Zhou

Dr. Haibo Zhou

From 2006 to 2017, the program was directed by Amy Herring, ScD, who is now a professor of statistical science at Duke University. While Herring spearheaded the most recent grant renewal, the grant currently is led by Fry, Engel and co-principal investigator Haibo Zhou, PhD, professor of biostatistics and director of the biostatistics core for both UNC’s Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology and UNC’s Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility.

“The continued success of this program is a direct function of the high-quality research conducted by our students and postdoctoral scholars under the supervision of outstanding UNC faculty members,” said Herring. “I would like to congratulate UNC’s students and faculty for their amazing research achievements.”

Over the past 46 years, the program has created both opportunities and a rich legacy for the School by funding hundreds of graduates who have made significant research contributions and helped shape current public health policy in the United States and globally. Former trainees now hold influential leadership and policy positions at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as at the nation’s top medical and academic centers and in industry.

The NIH traineeships in environmental health, as well as in other areas including reproductive epidemiology, nutrition, toxicology, cardiovascular disease, infectious disease and cancer, also help attract and recruit some of the most highly qualified applicants. The program provides a monthly stipend and tuition support for UNC public health students.

“This grant demonstrates our strength in environmental research,” said Zhou. “It also plays a significant role both in supporting our current outstanding students and attracting the brightest students of the future to our program.”


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Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu