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The Abstract: October 24, 2022

This Week @ Gillings: The Abstract

October 24, 2022

Whether you’re local or global, student or alumni, the Abstract’s weekly news digest will help you stay in the loop with our amazing Gillings School community.

Woods selected as RTI University Scholar

Dr. Courtney Woods

Dr. Courtney Woods

Courtney G. Woods, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, has been named to the 2022-23 class of RTI International University Scholars. She will study rural water quality and risk perception associated with solid waste landfills.

RTI Collaborators: Crystal Lee Pow Jackson, PhD, research environmental scientist in the Center for Environmental Health, Risk and Sustainability; Brian Southwell, PhD, senior director, Science in the Public Sphere, Center for Communication Science; and Rohit B. Warrier, PhD, research environmental engineer, Center for Environmental Health, Risk and Sustainability

Woods and collaborators will apply community-based participatory approaches to research the effect of landfill contaminants on environmental and human health, measuring private water quality at residences near a major North Carolina landfill. The research will inform a framework for investigating risk perception among private well users who live near landfills.

“Private well users across the country continue to be underserved and at the biggest risk for hazards in their drinking water,” noted RTI collaborators in their support for Woods’s research. “We believe that our collaboration with Dr. Woods will advance scientific stature through innovative research.”

Learn more.

Student team wins second place at Everett V. Fox Case Competition

Robbie Bynum, Simone Bacon and Shakerrie Allmond hold their award.

Robbie Bynum, Simone Bacon and Shakerrie Allmond share their award.

Three second-year Master of Healthcare Administration students — Robbie Bynum, Simone Bacon and Shakerrie Allmond — won second place in the 27th Annual Everett V. Fox Case Competition as a part of the National Association of Health Services Executives Educational Conference in New Orleans, LA.

Twenty-eight student teams from across the country participated in the case competition that focused on developing a strategy for recruiting and retaining health care workforce for Ochsner Health System in New Orleans.

Congratulations, team!

Gillings research on colon cancer treatment published in JAMA Oncology

Gillings School epidemiologists Michael Webster-Clark, PharmD, PhD, Alexander Keil, PhD, Til Stürmer, MD, PhD, Daniel Westreich, PhD, and Jennifer Lund, PhD, are co-authors on a new study published in JAMA Oncology, titled “Comparing Trial and Real-World Adjuvant Oxaliplatin Delivery in Patients with Stage III Colon Cancer Using Longitudinal Cumulative Dose.”

Delivery of adjuvant chemotherapy can differ substantially between trial and real-world populations. Adherence metrics like relative dose intensity (RDI) cannot capture the timing of modifications and mask differences in the total amount of chemotherapy received. In this study, the research team sought to determine if comparing oxaliplatin delivery between trial participants and patients with stage III colon cancer using a longitudinal cumulative dose (LCD) provides additional information vs comparing delivery with relative dose intensity.

This cohort study used secondary data from the MOSAIC trial, an international randomized clinical trial (concluded in 2004), and electronic health records from United States Oncology (2009-2018), a network of community oncology practices in the U.S.

In comparing oxaliplatin delivery in 663 patients in the MOSAIC trial and 2523 real-world patients with stage III colon cancer treated within the U.S. Oncology Network, median LCD differed by 1.2 total doses, with these differences between groups emerging 133 days after initiating chemotherapy. The study results suggest that characterizing treatment delivery longitudinally with LCD can provide additional insight into the differences between trial and real-world patients beyond relative dose intensity.

“This study provides information about how the delivery of adjuvant chemotherapy differs when given as part of a clinical trial versus part of routine clinical care,” Lund said. “This information can provide cancer patients, health care providers and policymakers with some clues as to whether the benefits and harms that are observed in trials are likely to generalize to routine clinical practice – and whether additional evidence about the benefits and harms of treatment in clinical practice settings is needed.”

Read the full study online.

Wechsberg named to 50 over 50 list in Forbes

Dr. Wendee Wechsberg

Dr. Wendee Wechsberg

Wendee Wechsberg, PhD, adjunct professor of maternal and child health at research director at the RTI Global Gender Center, has been named to the Forbes list of 50 Over 50 – Impact, which shines a light on women who are stepping into their most powerful roles in their sixth decade or later.

Wechsberg has been conducting international research in South Africa with substance-abusing women for the last 20 years and has published in the areas of gender and ethnicity, outreach and HIV risk.

Congratulations, Dr. Wechsberg!

Read more.

Achrekar named UNAIDS deputy executive director, UN assistant secretary general

Dr. Angeli Achrekar

Dr. Angeli Achrekar

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently announced that Angeli Achrekar, DrPH, MPH, an alumna of the Gillings School’s Executive Doctoral Program in Health Leadership (DrPH), has been appointed as a deputy executive director at UNAIDS.

Achrekar, who is currently Principal Deputy U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, PEPFAR, will be UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director for the Programme Branch. She will also be an assistant secretary-general of the United Nations.

UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said:

“I am delighted to welcome to UNAIDS two exceptional leaders in the global HIV response. Angeli Achrekar and Christine Stegling are exemplars in building strong partnerships which connect communities, governments and the United Nations and achieve transformational impact. Their work has saved and changed lives and helped advance the dignity and rights of all. They are joining a UNAIDS that has been reshaped to be ready in this challenging global moment to ensure that no one is left behind. Through courageous leadership to end the inequalities which perpetuate the AIDS pandemic, the world can end AIDS. With the help of Angeli and Christine, UNAIDS will galvanize that leadership.”

Angeli Achrekar said:

“I am honored to join UNAIDS and to lead the Programme Branch. I am inspired by how UNAIDS has united the world through its strategy in a shared commitment to end the inequalities which drive the AIDS pandemic. UNAIDS grounding in communities, data, programmatic insight, convening strength and bold advocacy have been central to the progress that has been made in the AIDS response, and are needed now more than ever. Together, in partnership with communities, NGOs, private sector, governments and multilateral organizations, we can and will end AIDS.”

Read the full announcement.

Gillings epidemiologists co-author Nature study on genetic variants in human height

Gillings epidemiologists, including Kari North, PhD, and Kristin Young, PhD, are co-authors on a study published recently in Nature, titled “A saturated map of common genetic variants associated with human height.”

Common single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are predicted to collectively explain 40–50% of phenotypic variation in human height, but identifying the specific variants and associated regions requires huge sample sizes.

In this new study, using data from a genome-wide association study of 5.4 million individuals of diverse ancestries, researchers showed that 12,111 independent SNPs that are significantly associated with height account for nearly all of the common SNP-based heritability. These SNPs are clustered within 7,209 non-overlapping genomic segments with a mean size of around 90 kb, covering about 21% of the genome. The density of independent associations varies across the genome and the regions of increased density are enriched for biologically relevant genes.

In out-of-sample estimation and prediction, the 12,111 SNPs account for 40% (45%) of phenotypic variance in populations of European ancestry but only around 10–20% (14–24%) in populations of other ancestries. Effect sizes, associated regions and gene prioritization are similar across ancestries, indicating that reduced prediction accuracy is likely to be explained by linkage disequilibrium and differences in allele frequency within associated regions.

The study also shows that the relevant biological pathways are detectable with smaller sample sizes than are needed to implicate causal genes and variants.

Overall, this study provides a comprehensive map of specific genomic regions that contain the vast majority of common height-associated variants.

Read the full study online.