The University of Cambridge and UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health have partnered since 2012 in launching collaborative research projects to transform public health.
The partnership, which started in 2012, builds on the two universities’ complementary strengths in areas such as biostatistics, epidemiology, obesity, non-communicable diseases, ageing, health behavior and global health. It continues to produce new and innovative public health research born out of interdisciplinary collaborations.
These projects were funded by a donation from Drs. Dennis and Mireille Gillings as well as contributions from both University partners.
Current Pilot Projects (started in 2016)
UNC Gillings faculty are currently working with counterparts at the Cambridge Institute of Public Health, on five projects:
Developing a Novel App to Link Dietary Behavior to Environmental Sustainability
Wide-scale adoption of largely plant-based diets could cut food-related global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 70%, save up to 8 million lives by 2050, and up to 1.5 trillion dollars in “avoided climate-related damages.” Despite the health and the environmental benefits of transitioning to a largely plant-based diet, consumer awareness of the links between diet and the environment is very low; a global survey including US and UK respondents found that although GHG emissions from meat / dairy production and the transport sector are approximately equal (roughly 14.5% of total global GHG emissions each), 64% of respondents perceive the transport sector to be a major contributor to GHG emissions, while only 29% of perceive meat / dairy production to be a major contributor (Wellesley et al., 2015; Balley et al., 2014). This research aims to explore strategies for communicating the link between diet choice and the environment with the hope of changing the dietary patterns to improve both personal and environmental health.
Using 360° Cameras to Capture Environmental Cues in Real Time for Smoking, Eating and Drinking in UK and US Adults
Noncommunicable diseases related to four common behavioral risk factors: tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet, and reduced physical activity; are currently the leading cause of mortality and morbidity globally. To date, interventions aimed at changing these four sets of behavior have mostly used educational approaches, which have proven largely ineffective. Altering cues in people’s environments may provide a more effective way of changing behavior, for example, policy interventions to create environments that promote healthful behaviors. However, little is known regarding the environmental cues that lead people to smoke in everyday life, or cues that lead to in-the-moment desire for food or alcohol. This is an important gap as it is well established that environmental cues trigger risky behaviors such as smoking. This project seeks to address this gap in our knowledge by using innovative 360° camera methodology.
Building New Partnerships Between Health Services Research Centers
Stimulating New Research Initiatives and Sustainability: The Chapel Hill-Cambridge Cardiovascular Epidemiology Partnership (Phase II)
The growing global burden of non-communicable diseases and the need for interdisciplinary, multi-center approaches to their prevention and control underscore the importance of collaboration and for experiential learning opportunities for public health scientists. Such competencies are deemed essential to address the global challenge of improving population health.
Funding for this collaboration will build on the existing partnership forged in 2015. The collaboration aims to create a mentored, research-focused experiences in international collaboration with a primary focus on developing innovative research grant applications. It is centered on shared research interests and complementary strengths extant at the two university programs.
Collaboration between the Centre for Sustainable Development (CSD), Cambridge University & the Water Institute at UNC Gillings
Access to safe, reliable water is critical for human health and development and to reduce exposure to waterborne diseases such as cholera. However, maintaining functional community-managed drinking water systems is a major concern in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). When improved drinking water systems in LMIC do not function properly, populations revert to unimproved sources, increasing risk of infection by waterborne pathogens, particularly for small children, and undermining potential health gains (Hunter et al., 2009).
To increase long-term functionality of community-managed water systems in LMICs, support mechanisms and activities have been developed to address problems that arise following construction. Yet despite evidence that these post-construction support (PCS) activities can increase functionality of water supply systems, the majority of program investment flows to front-end construction and capacity building. This collaboration aims to facilitate integrating and leveraging complimentary research for evidence-based solutions to reduce exposure to waterborne diseases.
Previous Projects (started in 2012)
Advancing Longitudinal and Missing Data Methodology for “Big Data” Research in Health
This project addresses one of the great challenges and opportunities in health care – extracting information and meaning from large, complex data sets so that results reflect reality and can be used to improve population health and disease treatment.
Reducing Dementia Risk Factors in Later Life
With an aging global population and predictions that the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease will quadruple by 2050, there is an urgent need to understand and reduce risk factors for dementia. The collaborative study will investigate the impact of risk factors such as ethnicity, urban versus rural location, social networks and culture on dementia and cognitive health.
At the heart of the study are data on the health of diverse cultural groups that already have been collected from studies conducted in the U.S. and U.K. Additional funding recently received from the U. K.-U. S. Collaborative Development Award (CDA) Program will enable the dementia research to advance more rapidly.
Information to Inform Obesity Policy
June Stevens, PhD, AICR/ WCRF Distinguished Professor and chair of nutrition at UNC, and John Danesh, DPhil, head of Cambridge’s Department of Public Health and Primary Care and professor of epidemiology and medicine, co-lead an effort that will use an extensive database compiled by Cambridge researchers to influence U.S. and U.K. obesity policy. The project also will answer key questions posed by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) panel charged with updating clinical guidelines related to risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension and diabetes. Stevens is a member of the NIH panel.
Mobile Data Collection on Marketing and Regulatory Compliance of Tobacco, Alcohol and Food Retailers
The Chapel Hill–Cambidge Cardiovascular Epidemiology Partnership: Student Exchange
In 2015, a small award was given to Professor Danesh and Professor Rosamond for a reciprocal visit and project work for a PhD student and post doc.