Our faculty solve some of the most pressing health problems in North Carolina and around the world by conducting novel, innovative research that changes public health practice, influences policy and improves the quality of people’s lives. Last year, our faculty received $154.1 million in research grants and contracts related to these pressing health problems.
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Currently making an impact…
On April 20, 2010, the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 workers and injuring 17 others. Nearly three years later, researchers have enrolled almost 33,000 participants in what is the largest and most comprehensive health effects study of its kind ever conducted among oil spill clean-up workers and volunteers. Epidemiologist Larry Engel, PhD, is one of the lead investigators for The GuLF STUDY (Gulf Long-Term Follow-Up Study) funded by the National Institutes of Health and led by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. In addition to investigating health effects among the clean-up workers from the clean-up efforts, this long-term study will aid in the evaluation of federal worker safety training measures for disaster responders that were revised in the aftermath of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack response and is informing preparedness and policy for health research in future disasters. “The GuLF STUDY will be invaluable in improving our very limited understanding of the short- and long-term human health effects of oil spills and our responses to them” says Dr. Engel. “Such knowledge is critical not only in regard to this disaster, but so that we can better prepare for such disasters and their health consequences in the future.”
For details about the study, click here
New evidence from a study led by Rose Cory, PhD, assistant professor of environmental sciences and engineering, suggests that arctic warming is an even bigger global problem than previously thought. Conversion of soil organic carbon to carbon dioxide gas has potential to double the amount of greenhouse gas in the earth’s atmosphere. “In this research,” Dr. Cory says, “we provide the first evidence that the respiration of previously frozen soil carbon will be amplified by reactions with sunlight (photochemical processes) and their effects on bacteria.”
Mental health for African-American men is negatively affected by subtle everyday racism. “The slings and arrows of everyday racism still exist, and we need to find targeted ways to help men defend against them while also working to address the policy structures that project them,” says Dr. Wizdom Powell Hammond, PhD, Health Behavior assistant professor.
Epidemiology professor Til Stürmer, MD, PhD, is set to begin leading an interdisciplinary team in examining methodologies for comparing the effectiveness of treatments used in elderly patients’ treatment after myocardial infarction. This research aims to improve patient-centered research by providing patients, caregivers and clinicians the information and tools they need every day.
After completing one of the largest genome sequencing studies to date (14,002 people), biostatisticians from UNC, GlaxoSmithKline and other universities found that rare genetic variants associated with common human diseases are actually not so rare.
Climate researchers including J. Jason West, PhD, environmental sciences and engineering assistant professor, estimate 400,000 ozone-related deaths could be avoided by 2030 by reducing emissions of short-living pollutants like soot and methane. “There are cost-effective ways to reduce methane sources,” West says, “and when we monetized health benefits, we found that they outweigh the cost of emission reduction.”
Are diet sodas good or bad for you? The jury is still out, but a new UNC-led study sheds light on the impact that zero-calorie beverages may have on health, especially in the context of a person’s overall dietary habits. “Overall, we found that people who consumed diet beverages tended to be less healthy than people who did not consume them,” says Kiyah Duffey, PhD, Nutrition research assistant professor at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.
“M-health” refers to the novel use of text messaging to improve health outcomes in developing countries. Harsha Thiramurthy, PhD, Health Policy and Management assistant professor, reported on evidence from Kenya where text messaging is improving adherence to antiretroviral therapy, thereby prolonging suppression of HIV. “M-health interventions could be applied to a very broad range of health-related behaviors,” says Thiramurthy.
While current therapies are effective at controlling HIV, some virus remains hidden in certain cells. This latent infection remains a significant challenge to curing HIV. “We found that latent infection decayed in some patients, but that all had a few deeply latent infected cells,” said David Margolis, MD, epidemiology professor. “These are the cells that we must eliminate to cure infection,” he noted.
The rapid shift from nomadic life to modern-day culture in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has exposed the population to significant indoor air quality risks that lead to respiratory illness. Research led by Karin Yeatts, PhD, Epidemiology assistant professor, showed approximately 30 percent of homes had high levels of sulfur dioxide and formaldehyde. “The UAE is completely under-researched. This area of the world is very deserving of science and public health work.” Yeatts continues to bring attention to the need to limit exposures and improve air quality in the UAE.
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