The following are examples of current research activities by our MIAEH faculty. Please visit individual faculty websites for more details and listings of publications.

 

Multiple MIAEH Faculty:

The School of Public Health’s environmental and occupational health and environmental justice experts produced a report that assesses the potential public health effects of allowing unconventional natural gas development and production (UNGDP), commonly known as “fracking” (a name derived from one part of the process), in western Maryland’s Marcellus Shale region. (See: http://phpa.dhmh.maryland.gov/OEHFP/EH/SitePages/MarcellusShale.aspx). The report was a part of Governor O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative, designed to “assist State policymakers and regulators in determining whether and how gas production from the Marcellus shale in Maryland can be accomplished without unacceptable risks of adverse impacts to public health, safety, the environment and natural resources.”

The UMD research team ranked various UNGDP-associated hazards based on the likelihood (high, moderately high, or low) that each could have a negative impact on public health. The 203-page report contains 52 specific recommendations for how to prevent or mitigate health impacts, if fracking is allowed in Maryland. It includes recommendations for health surveillance to verify the effectiveness of preventive measures, disclosure of all chemicals used in UNGDP, and legislation and regulations to empower surface owners and impacted communities to control their local environment.

The full report “Potential Public Health Impacts of Natural Gas Development and Production in the Marcellus Shale in Western Maryland” is available at http://www.marcellushealth.org/

 

Dr. Amir Sapkota:

Extreme heat and precipitation events, which are expected to increase in frequency and intensity due to climate change, are associated with increased risk of salmonella infections. The study is the first to provide empirical evidence that salmonella infections related to extreme weather events are disproportionately impacting those living in the coastal areas of Maryland.

“We found that extremely hot days and periods of extreme rainfall are contributing to salmonella infections in Maryland, with the most dramatic impacts being seen in the coastal communities,” said Dr. Amir Sapkota, associate professor in the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health. “As we prepare for the future, we need to take this differential burden into account.”

This new study identified extreme heat and precipitation events during 2002-2012 and linked them with the salmonella infections data from the health department. The extreme events were identified using  ~30 years of weather data (from 1960-1989) as the baseline. The research team, which included environmental epidemiologists, microbiologists, earth system scientists and officials from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH), observed that a one-unit increase in extreme heat and precipitation was associated with 4.1 percent and 5.6 percent increases in the risk of salmonellosis, respectively. The observed risk was considerably higher in coastal areas compared to non-coastal areas of Maryland: 5.1 percent versus 1.5 percent for extreme heat events, and 7.1 percent versus 3.6 percent for extreme precipitation events.

Published in the interdisciplinary journal Environment International, the study highlights the need to engage public health practitioners and policy makers to prepare for and respond to climate change-associated adverse health effects at local, state, and national levels.

Climate Change, Extreme Events and Increased Risk of Salmonellosis: Evidence for Coastal Vulnerability,” is published in the journal Environment International and written by Chengsheng Jiang, Kristi S. Shaw, Crystal Romeo Upperman, David Blythe, Clifford Mitchell, Raghu Murtugudde, Amy R. Sapkota, Amir Sapkota.

Dr. Amir Sapkota is also studying the impact of climate change on asthma incidence and severity. His research could help public health and policy leaders to prepare for and respond to climate change-associated adverse health effects at local, state, and national levels.

 

Dr. Sacoby Wilson:

Dr. Sacoby Wilson, who leads the Community Engagement, Environmental Justice and Health initiative, is currently working to map the distribution of environmental hazards and pollution-intensive facilities for each census tract and county in Maryland and linking this with demographic data on race, ethnicity, income, and education to identify the groups most vulnerable to environmental health threats. Dr. Wilson attended the White House Climate Change Summit in 2015 led by experts from the EPA, HHS, CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Climate change will worsen current health disparities,” says Dr. Wilson. “The folks whose health will be most impacted are those already experiencing environmental injustices and vulnerable groups like kids and seniors. If you are already living near a coal fired power plant or a chemical facility or in an urban environment with poor infrastructure and high levels of air pollution, you will experience greater exposures caused by extreme heat events, which will worsen ozone and smog. Climate change will worsen and increase asthma, diabetes, and heart disease in vulnerable communities.”

Dr. Wilson believes that engaging the most vulnerable communities through their community-based organizations such as neighborhood associations and churches is the best way to combat the direct and indirect effects of climate change

Dr. Wilson also recently participated in the HHS Climate Justice Conference at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina, where he was a featured panelist for a session on climate justice priorities and a breakout session on climate change research.

Dr. Wilson’s research and community engagement activities have also engaged communities concerned about environmental exposures due to large-scale chicken farming operations. Listen to Dr. Wilson's radio interview about health risks from large-scale chicken operations on the Susan Monday show, for station Delaware 105.9.

 

Dr. Don Milton:

Dr. Donald Milton received a $5 million grant from IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity) to develop methods for quick detection of targeted “biomarkers” in laboratory workers suspected of working with influenza viruses to create a bioweapon. IARPA is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Dr. Milton’s research team will develop new ways to identify environmental exposures (known as the “exposome”) by collecting and testing skin, exhaled air, and hair through non-invasive methods. “Everything you have been exposed to since conception is your exposome: everything you have eaten, drunk, breathed, touched, every ray of sunlight that struck your skin is part of your exposome,” explains Dr. Milton. “While we cannot directly measure or test the exposome, we can find signatures left by the exposures that lab workers may have had, which could enable us to detect influenza threats.”

Signatures of exposure can be detected in proteins from the lungs that come out in tiny droplets as people breathe, in microorganisms on the skin and in hair, which are all altered by each individual’s unique history of exposures. To measure these changes, Dr. Milton’s team will sample exhaled breath for altered proteins in the lungs and test to identify differences in antibodies that are produced when someone is infected with the influenza virus versus being vaccinated against it. The researchers will also test to detect VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from chemical exposures, and residue from anti-flu drugs (such as Tamiflu) in hair samples.  They will also analyze lab workers’ microbiomes (the community of microorganisms present on skin) for alterations due to working with ferrets, which are the model organism for studying influenza because they are susceptible to the same strains as humans. Experts in aerosol science; protein chemistry; chemical, mechanical and bio-engineering; microfluidic fabrication; environmental exposure assessment; molecular biology, and pulmonary physiology and medicine will contribute to the development of these new technologies.

All of the research team’s tests will utilize non-invasive methods to sample exhaled air, hair and skin to identify the signature of an influenza threat. Dr. Milton’s previous research has demonstrated that submicron (smaller than one millionth of a meter) exhaled droplets from the deep lung of flu sufferers contain infectious influenza virus. The team is developing new technologies to sample exhaled breath (bioaerosol samplers), to measure proteins such as antibodies (high sensitivity immunoassays), and to analyze exhaled proteins than have previously existed, which will be used to assess exposome signatures from laboratory workers who work with both influenza viruses and ferrets. The development of these technologies, along with other complementary measures, is intended to make it possible to identify and thwart a potential threat posed by someone working to engineer a flu virus for nefarious purposes. 

 

Dr. Muhiuddin Haider:

Using biotechnology to increase biodiversity in Bangladesh could reduce the spread of bird flu in the country, according to a study led by Dr. Muhiuddin Haider. The article, The Impacts of Biotechnology on Biodiversity in Global Health: A Case Study on Avian Influenza in Bangladesh, was published in the June 2015 edition of the International Journal of Public Health.

In the study, Dr. Haider and a team of researchers from Purdue University, Yale University, and Shahjalal University in Bangladesh presented a literature review on biodiversity’s role in reducing disease and biotechnology’s relationship to biodiversity. Dr. Haider’s team provided an overview of avian influenza (AI H5N1), commonly known as bird flu, in Bangladesh and the potential for biotechnology, by increasing biodiversity and other methods, to reduce the spread of avian influenza.

 

Dr. Paul Turner:

The Director of the World Health Organization's International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) invited Dr. Paul Turner to contribute to an upcoming IARC Working Group Report on measures to reduce liver cancer from aflatoxins in developing countries.

Dr. Turner is an international expert on the subject, having produced more than 50 publications to date. He will take part in an expert committee to evaluate scientific evidence and provide a set of clear, concise and focused messages to help policymakers, international organizations and funders take action to reduce and prevent exposure to these naturally occurring dietary toxins.

Aflatoxins, naturally occurring fungal carcinogens that contaminate food in tropical regions (particularly maize and groundnuts), are the second leading cause of liver cancer globally. Approximately 4.5 billion persons live in locations that are at risk for aflatoxin exposure. The IARC Working Group Report is expected to be titled Aflatoxin Control Measures: A Basis for Improved Health in Developing Countries.

 

Dr. Robin Puett:

Dr. Robin Puett studies the relationship of ambient air pollution exposures with chronic diseases (e.g. cardiovascular disease, diabetes) and mortality. Her research projects are additionally focused on understanding the biological pathways involved in these relationships and identifying factors (e.g. diet, physical activity) which may modify these associations. She is also interested in health disparities associated with neighborhood context and built environment factors that influence physical activity, obesity, and chronic diseases.

Dr. Puett has received funding as a Principal Investigator from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Her most recently funded grant is an R01 focused on air pollution, subclinical CVD and inflammation in the SEARCH for diabetes in youth study cohort.

Recent work as a PI:

R01, 2011-2016: NIH, NIEHS

“Air Pollution, Subclinical CVD, and Inflammatory Markers in the SEARCH Cohort”

This study will examine the short- and long-term effects of air pollution exposures on cardiovascular disease and inflammation among children and youth with Type I diabetes across diverse racial and ethnic groups in the US. While existing research has shown adults with Type I diabetes are more susceptible to air pollution related cardiovascular conditions, little is known about the vulnerability of children to similar exposures. This study will use data from SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study (SEARCH) to examine the short and long-term effects of air pollution on cardiovascular risk. Results from this study could have an impact on treatment approaches and behavioral recommendations.

R03, 2009-2011: NIH, NIEHS

“Particulate Exposure and Cardiovascular Disease in the Health Professionals Follow up Study”

This study applied spatio-temporal statistical exposure models developed for the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) to examine the relationships of chronic particulate exposure with all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS). The study allowed for similar analyses conducted among the all female NHS cohort to be repeated in the all male HPFS cohort.

F32, 2006-2008: NIH, NHLBI, postdoctoral training grant with Francine Laden (Harvard School of Public Health and Channing Laboratory) as Primary Mentor

“Heart Disease, Inflammatory Markers, and Particulates”

This study examines the relationships among particulate exposures, inflammatory markers and coronary heart disease using data from the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals' Follow-up Study.

Dr. Puett also contributes as a Co-Investigator in several NIH- funded projects in the fields of spatial modeling, climate change, air pollution, and other topics in  environmental exposure assessment and epidemiology. She has also received funding from the CDC, the University of South Carolina and the University of Maryland for her research and student training.

 

Dr. Devon Payne-Sturges:

Dr. Devon C. Payne-Sturges co-authored the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Cumulative Risk Webinar Series: What We Learned” report summarizing 15 EPA webinars that examined issues important to advancing cumulative risk assessment. The 2014 report was written while Dr. Payne-Sturges was serving as the Assistant Center Director for Human Health at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research (NCER).

The 15 webinars featured intramural and extramural EPA scientists, who discussed their research on how to assess combinations of multiple chemical, physical, and biological stressors, as well as how to account for populations’ vulnerabilities. “Accounting for multiple exposures and cumulative risk in environmental decisions has long been a challenge,” said Dr. Payne-Sturges. “In this report, we identify important science and science policy issues related to improving cumulative risk assessment science and practice.”

“It is our hope, through presenting this summary of the CRA Webinar Series, that EPA and its stakeholders will be inspired to continue the effort to move away from an approach that assesses the impact of one source, one agent on the average person toward the use of environmental and environmental health assessments and evaluations that better reflect reality, especially when setting policy and making regulatory decisions.”

 

Dr. Amy Sapkota:

Dr. Amy Sapkota leads a group of undergraduate students, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, conducting research in the areas of environmental microbiology, environmental microbial genomics, exposure assessment and environmental epidemiology. Her group studies the impact of environmental exposures on 1) the risk of bacterial infections and 2) the human microbiome. Current projects involve: 1) exploring the microbiota of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products, emerging nicotine delivery products and environmental tobacco smoke, as well as the oral microbiome of tobacco users and non-users; 2) evaluating antibiotic-resistant bacteria and total bacterial diversity in reclaimed water used for spray irrigation, groundwater recharge and crop irrigation; and 3) evaluating community-level socioeconomic and environmental factors associated with the risk of Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella and E. coli infections in the U.S.