Research. Last year our faculty received $164.8 million in research grants and contracts to work on the most pressing health problems in North Carolina and around the world. Here are some of the latest ways they’re making an impact:
Teaching. The data are in and course evaluations across all Gillings classes tell us that students agree (often strongly):
Mentoring. Excellent mentoring is a core Gillings value, and that mentoring helps produce results. With faculty guidance and support, our students:
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Dennis Gillings Distinguished Professor Danyu Lin, Professor Dongling Zeng, and doctoral student Zhengzheng Tang have developed a novel approach to analyzing genetic traits in large cohorts. The technique allows researchers to correctly evaluate the associations between genetic variants and disease traits when only the subjects with the highest or lowest trait values were selected in a sequencing study, thereby leading to improved genetic understanding and treatment of disease.
Environmental Sciences and Engineering
Assistant Professor Jason West and doctoral students Raquel Silva and Yuqiang Zhang, found that more than two million deaths occur each year as a direct result of human-caused outdoor air pollution. They also estimate that about 2.1 million deaths result each year from human-caused increases in fine particulate matter – tiny particles suspended in the air that can penetrate deep into the lungs, causing cancer and other respiratory diseases. “Our estimates make outdoor air pollution among the most important environmental risk factors for health,” West said. “Many of these deaths are estimated to occur in East Asia and South Asia, where a large population is exposed to severe air pollution.”
Ralph Baric, PhD, epidemiology professor, and Mark Denison, MD, professor of microbiology and immunology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, collaborated on a study that may show how to cripple the ability of the SARS coronavirus to cause disease by using the virus’ rapid mutation abilities against itself (Nature Medicine 2012). Epidemiology postdoctoral fellow Rachel Graham, PhD, led the study.
A study led by Susan Ennett, PhD, professor of health behavior, found that 22 percent of surveyed mothers believed that children who taste alcohol at home are better at resisting alcohol-related peer pressure. The findings, published in JAMA Pediatrics (2012), are troubling, given that early exposure to alcohol is a primary risk factor for problem drinking during adolescence.
Health Policy and Management
Stephanie Wheeler, PhD, assistant professor of health policy and management at Gillings School of Global Public Health, will receive $727,000 over five years through an American Cancer Society Mentored Research Scholar Grant. Her research will focus upon understanding and improving use of guideline-recommended endocrine therapy among racially diverse breast cancer patients.
Maternal and Child Health
A study led by Tamar Ringel-Kulka, MD, MPH, research assistant professor of maternal and child health, adds credence to the idea that certain interventions may be used to correct microbial imbalances in children and that the window of time during which to make those adjustments may be longer than previously thought. These “windows of opportunity,” the study reports, may be used to “promote health and prevent or mitigate disease processes.”
Elizabeth Mayer Davis, professor and chair, found that adding foods rich in branched-chain amino acids (including meat, dairy products and legumes) and long-chain omega 3s (found in fish, seeds and nuts) may help youth with Type 1 diabetes produce some of their own insulin for up to two years after diagnosis. Read more.
Public Health Leadership Program
Russell Harris, MD, MPH, professor of medicine, adjunct professor in the Health Care and Prevention Concentration of the Public Health Leadership Program (PHLP) coauthored the article, “The Times They (May Be) A-Changin’: Too Much Screening is a Health Problem.” The commentary addresses the controversial question of how much medical screening is enough.