School Awards Pilot Grants To Meet Challenges of 21st Century

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How does Twitter affect obesity? How can we engage diverse groups on the issue of climate change and health? How can we improve malaria treatment in Mozambique, where the disease kills half the children under five years old? These are some of the research studies funded by five innovative pilot grants just awarded by the University of Washington School of Public Health.

These pilot grants grew out of the School's multi-year strategic plan, which identifies six crucial public health emerging challenges: global environmental change, genomics, obesity/food/physical activity, health policy, implementation science, and the social determinants of health. As part of implementing the plan, the School instituted this grant program to give faculty a boost in initiating research programs that address these emerging challenges.

The grants were chosen based on their potential for spearheading new research directions and building resources for future efforts to improve public health. Grants are up to $40,000 each.

The five grants will fund research to:

  • Understand better the impact of social networks, such as Twitter, on obesity among different demographic groups of people. The grant, which brings together a biostatistician, a sociologist/demographer, and a statistician, will develop new computational tools and statistical methods to analyze social media data. (Ali Shojaie, asst. professor of Biostatistics, is the principal investigator.)
  • Examine the relationship between perceived discrimination and chronic stress (measured by cortisol levels, a biological measure of stress) among Latina and white women. The findings would shed further light on the social determinants of health. (India Ornelas, acting asst. professor in Health Services, and Shirley Beresford, professor of Epidemiology, are the principal investigators.)
  • Evaluate strategies to promote meaningful discussion of climate change in rural areas of Washington state, especially exploring ways to engage elder and faith-based communities. (Richard Fenske, professor of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, is the principal investigator.)
  • Improve the accuracy of malaria diagnosis and effectiveness of treatment in Mozambique, where the disease is the primary cause of death and is responsible for half the deaths of children less than five years old. (Kenneth Sherr, asst. professor of Global Health, is the principal investigator.)
  • Increase the rate of circumcision among males in Uganda, to reduce their risk of contracting HIV, in particular by assessing whether monetary incentives will promote adoption of this approach. (Joseph Babigumira, asst. professor of Global health, is the principal investigator. The Dept of Global Health's Center for AIDS Research contributed additional funds to make possible this award.)

Mark Oberle, Associate Dean for Public Health Practice at the School of Public Health, commented, "The emerging challenge areas the School is addressing are based on public health significance, the ability to build on our formidable existing strengths at the School, and the impact on the health of future generations. These specific grant proposals were chosen based on their potential to lead us in future research directions to improve health and well-being locally and globally."