TAG: "Global health"

UC San Diego launches new major in global health


Bachelor of arts in global health is a first in the UC system.

Junior Michelle Bulterys recently upped her global health minor to a major and is now double-majoring along with anthropology. She spent part of her summer in a small South African village doing research.

Undergraduates at UC San Diego will now be able to pursue a bachelor of arts in global health – an increasingly popular new field of study and urgent social concern.

Launched this fall, the program incorporates the global health minor started four years ago. Both the major and the minor are firsts in the UC system.

Tom Csordas, chair of the anthropology department, is the program’s director. The Global Health Program is truly interdisciplinary, he said, bringing together coursework and faculty from the UC San Diego divisions of Social Sciences, Biological Sciences, and Arts and Humanities, the School of Medicine, the Rady School of Management, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The word “global,” he said, refers both to geography – encompassing health concerns around the planet, at home and abroad – and also to the program’s holistic approach.

“The program balances pragmatic real-world experience with theoretical, analytic and critical skills. We aim to offer students a comprehensive introduction to the ‘hard’ and ‘flexible’ sciences that together make up the emerging field of global health,” Csordas said. “Our curriculum spans the continuum of approaches to health: medical social sciences, biological sciences, health policy and planning, epidemiology, global social processes and medical humanities.”

An important component of the bachelor’s degree, as it is with the minor, is a global health field experience comprised of 100 hours of work at a research, service or clinical site. In the case of the B.A., that fieldwork also culminates in a capstone seminar and a senior thesis, which students will present to the university community at the program’s annual Horizons of Global Health conference.

Csordas pointed out that the program is highly student-centered and closely articulated with both the university’s Global Health Initiative and with three (of four) research themes outlined in UC San Diego’s Strategic Plan: Enriching Human Life and Society, Understanding and Protecting the Planet, and Understanding Cultures and Addressing Disparities in Society.

Campus partners of the program also include the International Center, the Academic Internship Program, the Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies, the Center on Global Justice and the Blum Cross-Border Initiative.

Students are excited about the program, Csordas believes, because it affords them so many different avenues following graduation. The Global Health Program is intended, he said, to pave the way for work in health sciences, research and teaching, service-providing organizations, government or non-governmental agencies, health policy, environmental health, or law. It is also excellent preparation, he said, for advanced study in medical or graduate school.

Junior Michelle Bulterys recently upped her global health minor to a major and is now double-majoring along with sociocultural anthropology.

“It’s an incredible program,” said Bulterys, who serves on the program’s Student Advisory Committee. She cited in particular the opportunity to take classes you might “not even know about” in a more traditionally single-discipline major.

This past summer, Bulterys spent two months in South Africa doing anthropological research with a global health focus. She home-stayed with a family in the village of Hamakuya, which still struggles with the consequences of Apartheid, she said, and studied “both traditional healing practices and care-seeking behavior in a bio-Western facility.” The data her group collected were turned over to local health authorities.

Before coming to San Diego for university, Bulterys went to schools in China and Zambia (where her parents’ medical work took the family). Bulterys plans to pursue a career in medical anthropology and epidemiology. She expects she’ll seek to return abroad soon after graduating but may stay in the U.S. for a while.

“Global health has no boundaries,” Bulterys said. “It’s about interacting with the whole world.”

To learn more, visit the program website or write to Program Advisor Brittany Wright at bloy@ucsd.edu. Phone: (858) 534-7967. You can also find and follow the Global Health Program on Facebook and on Twitter.

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A global health powerhouse


UCSF Global Health Sciences marks 10th anniversary with symposium, Mission Hall opening.

Jaime Sepulveda, executive director, UCSF Global Health Sciences (Photo by Elisabeth Fall)

International health research at UCSF got its start in the late 1980s, with a small AIDS program in Uganda. A quarter-century later, it is a global research enterprise, with 600 UCSF investigators working in 190 countries.

UCSF’s Global Health Sciences now embraces all that the university has to offer: basic science, social science and clinical care, along with education and emerging areas that incorporate policy and diplomacy.

This month, Global Health Sciences celebrates the 10-year anniversary since its founding as a formal program with two major events: the opening of Mission Hall, where global health faculty will be gathered under one roof for the first time, and an international symposium on global health, featuring many of the giants in the field.

The goal of the conference is to explore what is coming next in global health, so that scientific efforts are targeted in the best way.

“As an academic health sciences university, UCSF plays a critical role in helping to set the global health agenda,” said Jaime Sepulveda, M.D., D.Sc., M.P.H., executive director of Global Health Sciences. “That’s what we’re doing with this symposium and with our day-to-day work.”

The symposium agenda sprang, in part, out of the recent Science special issue on global health. Sepulveda and UCSF Global Health Sciences were key partners in developing the issue, which includes a perspective from Sepulveda on the state of global health in 2014.

“UCSF has always been science-driven,” Sepulveda said. “That’s why our program is called Global Health Sciences. It’s an indication that we aim to bring the same rigor to this new field of knowledge that we have to all of the university’s other endeavors.”

UCSF scientists are working on major killers, like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, as well as lesser-known threats, like dengue, Chagas’ disease and River Blindness. They are studying how programs work – and why some work better in some places than others. And they are asking the tough questions about how to build health systems in countries that are only now becoming economically strong enough to support them.

Educators are training students at UCSF for global careers and helping clinicians around the world with massive online open enrollment courses, while researchers are mentoring young scientists abroad on research projects and training health workers through large community-based trials.

UCSF faculty are also contributing to major policy debates. Several played key roles in the Lancet Commission on Investing in Health, which laid out a 20-year plan to increase the amount spent on health in poor countries and improve access to care, while calling on the global community to expand research and development for diseases that disproportionately affect poor countries. Together, these efforts could save 10 million lives.

Most recently, Sepulveda and other UCSF faculty have added their voices to the debate over the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 by urging that the sole health goal now planned for inclusion be practical, concrete and include measurable targets, such as a 40 percent reduction in premature mortality.

These efforts show the strength of Global Health Sciences as it enters its second decade. The program has attracted the leading minds in the field – most recently Eric Goosby, M.D., President Barack Obama’s former global AIDS coordinator, and Harvey Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., former head of the Institute of Medicine – to join a growing powerhouse of global health influencers at UCSF.

“We are having a real influence in shaping global health priorities,” Sepulveda said. “It would be hard to find the same concentration of high-caliber global health leaders anywhere else in a single university.”

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Ebola genome browser now online


UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute releases bioinformatic tool to assist vaccine efforts.

Jim Kent, UC Santa Cruz

The UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute late Tuesday (Sept. 30) released a new Ebola genome browser to assist global efforts to develop a vaccine and antiserum to help stop the spread of the Ebola virus.

The team, led by UC Santa Cruz researcher Jim Kent, worked around the clock for the past week, communicating with international partners to gather and present the most current data. The Ebola virus browser aligns five strains of Ebola with two strains of the related Marburg virus. Within these strains, Kent and other members of the UC Santa Cruz Genome Browser team have aligned 148 individual viral genomes, including 102 from the current West Africa outbreak.

UC Santa Cruz has established the UCSC Ebola Genome Portal, with links to the new Ebola genome browser as well as links to all the relevant scientific literature on the virus.

“Ebola has been one of my biggest fears ever since I learned about it in my first microbiology class in 1997,” said Kent, who 14 years ago created the first working draft of the human genome.  “We need a heroic worldwide effort to contain Ebola. Making an informatics resource like the genome browser for Ebola researchers is the least we could do.”

Scientists around the world can access the open-source browser to compare genetic changes in the virus genome and areas where it remains the same. The browser allows scientists and researchers from drug companies, other universities, and governments to study the virus and its genomic changes as they seek a solution to halt the epidemic.

The release of the new Ebola genome browser comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday confirmed the first case of Ebola in the United States.

The Ebola browser was started shortly after a phone conversation between Kent and his sister, an epidemiologist at the CDC, who spoke of how she and her staff were consumed with Ebola research in the face of the escalating crisis. UC Santa Cruz professor Phil Berman, an HIV specialist, had also asked Kent for help with his efforts in developing a vaccine for Ebola.

Kent asked his supervisor, UC Santa Cruz bioinformatics researcher David Haussler, if he could divert his team to Ebola work.  Haussler replied with an enthusiastic affirmative, and they pulled together a team of UC Santa Cruz bioinformatics scientists that, within a week, was able to create a fully functional Ebola genome browser.

“The incredible speed with which this group was able to assemble all the genetic information about Ebola and make it available to the world shows what a great team Jim Kent has assembled,” Haussler said.

In June 2000, Kent and Haussler released the first working draft of the human genome sequence on the Web. Two months later, Kent developed the UCSC Genome Browser, which has become an essential resource to biomedical science.

In a similar marshaling of forces in the face of a worldwide threat 11 years ago, UC Santa Cruz researchers created a SARS virus browser.

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Improving border health


Bioregional approach involves health care, city planning, ecological restoration.

In a paper published this week online in Global Society, researchers with the UC San Diego School of Medicine and the Urban Studies and Planning Program, also at UC San Diego, present a bioregional guide that merges place-based (territorial) city planning and ecosystem management along the United States-Mexico border as way to improve human and environmental health.

Issues like climate change, economic crisis, natural disasters and disease outbreaks do not stop at national borders, compelling public health officials, academics and researchers to think differently about how to address wide-ranging human health challenges.

“City planners, health officials and researchers are combining knowledge and action in new ways to promote healthy placemaking,” said Keith Pezzoli, Ph.D., UC San Diego Department of Communication and director of the Urban Studies and Planning Program. “Our health is not entirely hardwired genetically. It is also affected by environmental exposures, stress, diet, urban design and behavior. In our region, we can’t think about health on just one side of the border because animals, sick people and pollutants move back and forth.”

In border towns, health risks are common on both sides of the border. In the paper, Pezzoli, with co-authors Wael K. Al-Delaimy, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chief of the Division of Global Health in the UC San Diego Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, and Catherine Wood Larsen, staff research associate in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, recommend supporting ecological restoration in transborder metropolitan areas where urban sprawl is taking place, such as in the canyon communities of Tijuana, Baja California.

In a related paper, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health on Sept. 15, Pezzoli, Al-Delaimy and Larsen looked at the impact of the environment on residents of Tijuana’s rapidly urbanizing settlement called Los Laureles Canyon. This was the first large scale investigation evaluating the health of this population.

In one decade, the area grew from zero residents to 70,000, forming multiple communities called “colonias.” These settlements do not typically comply with standard building codes and are without basic infrastructure, such as a sewer system, trash collection or paved roads. Many unregulated dumpsites dot the area, often containing a variety of hazardous waste from industry, construction and household garbage.

With Alter Terra (a binational non-governmental organization), the UC San Diego Superfund Research Center, the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies and the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California, researchers interviewed residents of Los Laureles Canyon about their well-being and any symptoms of illness. The occupants of the 4.6-square-mile area, a sub-basin of the binational Tijuana River Basin, reported skin problems, stomach discomforts, eye irritation, confusion/difficulty concentrating and extreme fatigue, which are symptoms commonly associated with exposure to environmental toxins.

“We have people who are living in dismal situations surrounded by dump sites,” said Al-Delaimy, who was the principal investigator on the study. “Their houses are made of garage doors brought from the U.S. and other materials that are mismatched. This is an environmental injustice that is impacting their health and has consequences for the San Diego region as well.”

For example, the ecological health of the Tijuana River Estuary in San Diego County depends upon what happens in the Tijuana River Basin. Toxins in upstream soils can contaminate rain runoff from Los Laureles Canyon, which eventually drains north to the U.S. and into the Pacific Ocean.

“We are joined together to Mexico through the watershed,” said Pezzoli. “We are in it together because of land, buildings and streets, but also from a health perspective because disease doesn’t stop at the border. The failure of control measures in one country has the potential to put neighboring communities at risk.”

To achieve an interconnected healthy bioregion, the scientists said public health professionals need training in global health diplomacy and cooperation. In addition, universities, through programs like the UC San Diego Superfund Research Center, must integrate community engagement and basic research translation through a cross-border approach. Creating sustainable and resilient communities, even across national borders, is possible by fostering investment in natural resources, rooted livelihoods and institutions, they said.

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Global health fellowship applications open


Applications due Dec. 1 for 11-month mentored research fellowship.

Applications for the 2015-16 UC Global Health Institute GloCal Health Fellowships are now open. Applications are due Dec. 1, 2014.

The GloCal Health Fellowship is a career development fellowship sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Fogarty International Center, as well as a consortium at the UCGHI. The consortium includes UC Davis, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC San Francisco, along with 27 affiliated international sites across 16 countries, and institutes and centers across the NIH.

The purpose of the program is to support an 11-month, mentored research fellowship for existing and aspiring investigators who are interested in studying diseases and conditions in developing countries (all trainees must spend 11 consecutive months in-country in order to be eligible for the program).

The fellowships are designed for doctoral students, professional students, postdoctoral fellows, foreign postdoctoral fellows from participating international sites in low- and middle-income countries, and junior faculty with a current NIH Career Development Award (K series or similar award) whose interests focus on interdisciplinary research in areas such as social and behavioral science, nutrition, environment, medicine, public health, nursing, veterinary and basic sciences.

For more information about the program and to download an application, visit the GloCal Health Fellowship website.

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Veterinary scientists serving on the Ebola frontline


UC Davis alums working for CDC in Sierra Leone.

Kim Dodd at the entrance to the "hot lab" wearing the associated personal protective equipment.

As Sierra Leone enters a three-day, house-to-house campaign in an effort to slow the spread of Ebola virus, two veterinary scientists working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who received their Ph.D. and D.V.M. degrees from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine will stay in the field, on the front lines in battling the largest Ebola outbreak since the deadly virus was identified in 1976.

Kim Dodd, a current UC Davis combined degree student (Ph.D. ‘14, DVM ‘15), joined her mentor and UC Davis alum Brian Bird in Sierra Leone in early September. Bird (Ph.D. ’08, DVM ‘09) serves as a veterinary medical officer in the Viral Special Pathogens Branch of the CDC and is now the lead of the CDC Ebola Field-Laboratory located at an Ebola Treatment Unit in Kenema, Sierra Leone.  This field-laboratory supports the international response to this unprecedented outbreak in partnership with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international collaborators. The laboratory serves as a regional reference laboratory to provide rapid Ebola testing.

According to the latest data from the WHO, the current outbreak in West Africa encompasses five countries with more than 5,000 cases identified and 2,630 deaths to date, more people than the last 38 years combined. Veterinary scientists such as Dodd and Bird comprise a critical role in conducting the laboratory testing to identify cases so that rapid tracing of patient-contacts can begin and to reduce the transmission of Ebola within the population.

Bird and the CDC stress the importance of early and rapid testing, as the initial clinical signs of Ebola virus infection can be nonspecific and similar to those seen with malaria, lassa fever, or other tropical diseases. It is therefore critical to rapidly identify positive cases for referral to Ebola treatment centers, and to send negative cases elsewhere for treatment and follow-up, in order to reduce community transmission and control the outbreak.

Professor James MacLachlan, their mentor at UC Davis, says veterinary researchers like Dodd and Bird with the joint skillset of a D.V.M. and Ph.D. are invaluable in dealing with One Health situations like this Ebola outbreak where emerging and zoonotic diseases have such a devastating impact on global health.

“These two remarkable individuals now are on the front line of this exceptionally brutal disease outbreak – what an example for what a veterinary degree can lead to,” he said.

In an email update, Dodd notes that “the impact of the outbreak is devastating with so many families reeling from loss of loved ones, including many young children.”

Yet there are bright moments.

“Today was a good day – a total of 20 patients (survivors) were released to their families after fully recovering and finally testing negative. I spoke to the father of a 6-year-old girl who had been in the treatment center for 21 days. When she walked out, small yet brave in a new shirt two sizes too big for her, he and I both wept.”

While Bird and Dodd’s involvement in the outbreak response highlights the value of veterinary scientists in global public health challenges, it also illustrates the need for more individuals in the public health field with training in veterinary medicine, human medicine, diagnostics, and epidemiology to support international One Health efforts.

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Making maps to predict malaria


UCSF, Google Earth Engine fighting infectious disease with cloud computing.

A sample risk map of malaria in Swaziland during the transmission season using data from 2011-13.

UC San Francisco (UCSF) is working to create an online platform that health workers around the world can use to predict where malaria is likely to be transmitted using data on Google Earth Engine.

The goal is to enable resource poor countries to wage more targeted and effective campaigns against the mosquito-borne disease, which kills 600,000 people a year, most of them children.

Faced with a multitude of public health needs, countries often make the mistake of cutting their malaria efforts just when they are close to eliminating the disease, said Hugh Sturrock, Ph.D., M.Sc., an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and a researcher in the Global Health Group, which is a part of UCSF’s Global Health Sciences.

“This can have disastrous consequences, since malaria can quickly rebound, putting years of expensive control efforts to waste,” he said. “But with these maps, health workers will know exactly where to target their scarce resources. That way, they can keep fighting the disease until it’s eliminated within their borders.”

Google Earth Engine brings together the world’s satellite imagery — trillions of scientific measurements dating back almost 40 years — and makes it available online with tools for scientists, independent researchers and nations to mine this massive warehouse of data to detect changes, map trends and quantify differences on the Earth’s surface.

With the malaria prediction platform, local health workers will be able to upload their own data on where and when malaria cases have been occurring and combine it with real-time satellite data on weather and other environmental conditions within Earth Engine to pinpoint where new cases are most likely to occur. That way, they can spray insecticide, distribute bed nets or give antimalarial drugs just to the people who still need them, instead of blanketing the entire country.

By looking at the relationship between disease occurrence and factors such as rainfall, vegetation and the presence of water in the environment, the maps will also help health workers and scientists study what drives malaria transmission. Google Earth Outreach, which helps nonprofits use Google’s mapping technology, is giving UCSF $100,000 to develop the new platform.

The new tool will be piloted in Swaziland, a country in southern Africa that has limited malaria to a few small pockets across the country through the malaria elimination program it launched in 2008 with help from the Global Health Group. Plans are to make the tool available to health workers in other countries working with the Global Health Group’s Malaria Elimination Initiative. The tool could also be adapted to predict other infectious diseases.

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Researchers assisting in search for Ebola immune response targets


San Diego Supercomputer Center, La Jolla Institute provide rapid online analysis.

The effort to develop therapeutics and a vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD) requires a complex understanding of the microorganism and its relationship within the host, especially the immune response. Adding to the challenge, EVD can be caused by any one of five known species within the genus Ebolavirus (EBOV), in the Filovirus family.

Now, researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (La Jolla Institute) and the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UC San Diego are assisting the scientific community by running high-speed online publications of analysis of EBOV-related epitope data being curated in the Immune Epitope Data Base (IEDB), and predicting epitopes using the IEDB Analysis Resource. Sebastian Maurer-Stroh of Bioinformatics Institute, A*STAR, Singapore is also assisting with analysis of the latest outbreak sequences of Ebola proteins.

“These results are the first installment of a series of analysis, whose ultimate goal is to provide a comprehensive overview of the molecular targets of the immune responses to Ebola virus,” said Julia Ponomarenko, a senior research scientist at SDSC and UCSD PI of IEDB.

The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa has now reached historic proportions surpassing 1,900 deaths from 3,500 confirmed or probable cases, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare an international public health emergency, according to recent news reports. Outbreaks of EVD have occurred in Africa in the past; however the current epidemic, caused by Zaire Ebolavirus, has been characterized by its unprecedented breadth and rapid spread.

“Clearly, research related to development of therapeutics and a vaccine against EVD is an urgent need, as well-engineered vaccines don’t exist at this time; our analysis is aimed at assisting the clinical and scientific communities in fine evaluation of laboratory results with the express intent of improving therapeutic targets or new vaccine development,” said Alessandro Sette of the Division of Vaccine Discovery, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, IEDB PI.

As of last month, the IEDB reported, in preliminary analysis, 67 T cell (CD4+ and CD8+) and 35 B cell epitopes (linear and conformational), from viruses within the EBOV and Marburgvirus genera. Within EBOV, data are provided for all known species, including Zaire, Sudan, Reston, Bundibugyo, and Tai Forest Ebolavirus. To date, 29 papers have been published that describe experimental data on the epitopes in the Filoviridae family, with 23 papers focused on the EBOV-related epitope data.

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Malaria’s clinical symptoms fade on repeat infections


UCSF-led team finds that this might be in part to loss of immune cells.

Researchers have been studying immune responses to the malaria parasite in Tororo, Uganda, where infection is now more prevalent than Kampala, the Ugandan capital.

Children who repeatedly become infected with malaria often experience no clinical symptoms with these subsequent infections, and a team led by UC San Francisco researchers has discovered that this might be due at least in part to a depletion of specific types of immune cells.

Working in Uganda, one of the most malaria-plagued nations in Africa and one in which individuals are repeatedly exposed to the malaria parasite, UCSF scientists found that a depletion of immune cells known as gamma delta T cells diminishes inflammatory responses in infected children — responses that when unabated can become debilitating or deadly.

“These inflammatory immune cells are depleted in children with repeated malaria exposure, and those that remain behave differently than the same cell types in children who have not previously been infected,” said Prasanna Jagannathan, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at UCSF, who conducted the lab analysis as part of a study team led by Margaret Feeney, M.D., a UCSF professor of experimental medicine and pediatrics. The study was published online today (Aug. 27) in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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Antimalarial drug shipped to Africa


Project begun by Berkeley Lab’s Jay Keasling to benefit millions of people.

Jay Keasling with children in a village outside Nairobi, Kenya. (Photo by Gabrielle Tenenbaum)

A project begun some 13 years ago by Jay Keasling, the associate laboratory director for biosciences at Berkeley Lab and the CEO of the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), was culminated with an announcement on Aug. 12 from the partnership of Sanofi, the multinational pharmaceutical company, and PATH, the nonprofit global health organization. Sanofi/PATH announced the shipment of 1.7 million treatments of semi-synthetic artemisinin to malaria-endemic countries in Africa. Unlike conventional artemisinin, which is derived from the bark of the sweet wormwood plant, this synthetic version of the World Health Organization’s frontline antimalarial drug is derived from yeast. The addition of a microbial-based source of artemisinin to the botanical source provides a stable new option for treating the millions of victims who are stricken with malaria each year, most of them children.

Sanofi has produced enough of the drug for 70 million treatments, and has the capacity to produce up to 150 million treatments annually. It was Keasling and his research group, using the tools of synthetic biology, who engineered the genes and metabolic pathways that enabled first E. coli and later yeast to produce artemisinic acid, the precursor to artemisin. This led to a $42.6 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for further basic research that ultimately led to yesterday’s announcement by Sanofi/PATH. Keasling, who is also the Hubbard Howe Jr. Distinguished Professor in Biochemical Engineering at UC Berkeley, among other titles, has been recognized for leading this groundbreaking research with numerous awards including the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s first Biotech Humanitarian Award.

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Auto-rickshaw helps monitor India’s deadly air pollution


Berkeley Lab’s research in India will help develop global strategies for air pollution.

What exactly is the relationship between exposure to air pollution and its effect on human health? How much cleaner would the air have to be to reduce the health burden of dirty air? Can cities be designed so as to minimize the flow of air pollution?

There is still a lot that scientists don’t know about air pollution, but the severe pollution common in much of India offers scientists an opportunity to better understand its causes and effects. The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher Josh Apte is developing some unique approaches to studying air pollution in India and hopes to apply what he learns to developing global strategies for combating it.

Although India uses the same air monitoring techniques that are standard throughout the world to measure ambient air pollution in major cities, such techniques don’t give residents or scientists enough actionable information, in Apte’s judgment. “A big limitation with ambient monitoring is it doesn’t tell you what people actually breathe,” he said. “It gives you some indication of the overall level of air pollution in a city, but it doesn’t tell you where the hot spots are, and it doesn’t tell you the locations where people are getting the bulk of air pollution exposure.”

Air pollution is the number five risk factor for premature death in India, causing three times as many deaths as AIDS and malaria combined. “One thing we can say with quite a bit of certainty is that air pollution is a major risk for premature death in India,” Apte said. “Air pollution now kills more people than poor water and sanitation, which historically has been a major cause of death in India.”

Specifically, the pollutant that is most harmful to human health is fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, for particles that are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. These particles are not visible to the naked eye and can be inhaled deeply into the lungs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers an annual average concentration in excess of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 to be a health concern, whereas average annual levels in India are on the order of 50 to 150 micrograms per cubic meter, according to Apte.

The primary sources of PM2.5 in India are similar to those of other countries—vehicle tailpipes, power plants and certain industrial processes. Indian cities and rural areas also have significant unregulated sources, including brick kilns, diesel backup generators, trash burning and wood-burning cookstoves.

To better measure the types and levels of pollutants that people are breathing, Apte hired an auto-rickshaw and drove it around the roads and highways of New Delhi for four months. The vehicle was outfitted with sensors placed at face height to more precisely measure what a person would inhale. He took two- to three-hour trips every day during the morning and evening rush hours.

Apte, Berkeley Lab researcher Thomas Kirchstetter, and a group of international collaborators collected more than 200 hours of real-time measurements of three types of pollutants: PM2.5, black carbon and ultrafine particles. “The levels of air pollution are truly astounding,” he said. “These are some of the highest levels of air pollution that have ever been measured in traffic anywhere in the world.”

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Prusiner appointed to board of Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research


Nobel laureate joins board aimed at increasing scientific and technological research.

Nobel laureate Stanley Prusiner, who discovered an unprecedented class of pathogens that he named prions, has been appointed to the board of directors for a newly created federal organization called the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research.

Nobel laureate Stanley Prusiner, M.D., professor in the UCSF Department of Neurology and director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, has been appointed to a 15-member board of directors for a newly created federal foundation, aimed to leverage public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships. The goal of the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (FFAR) is to boost America’s agricultural economy. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement about the creation of FFAR and its board on July 23.

Authorized by Congress as part of the 2014 Farm Bill, the foundation will operate as a nonprofit corporation seeking and accepting private donations in order to fund research activities that focus on problems of national and international significance. Congress also provided $200 million for the foundation which must be matched by non-federal funds as the Foundation identifies and approves projects.

“Studies have shown that every dollar invested in agricultural research creates $20 in economic activity,” said Vilsack. “Investments in innovation made over the past several decades have developed new products and new procedures that have been critical to the continued growth of American agriculture. We must continue to make strategic investments in research and technology if we are to remain leaders in the global economy.”

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