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URC Researchers Team Up On Winning Proposals

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University Research Corridor seed funding of more than $750,000 will support two major environmental health studies including researchers from all three member institutions: Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.

“We believe that one significant value of the URC alliance is our opportunity to provide seed funding for collaborative research that offers transformational promise,” said Jeff Mason, URC executive director. “This funding will better position our researchers for national competitiveness, as well as help influence the outcomes of both state and national environmental health policy decisions.”

This competition requires that proposals reflect the collaboration of two or more URC institutions and that a URC faculty member (or members) serve as principal investigator or co-investigators. The URC received 11 letters of intent from interested researchers and invited five teams to present full proposals.

One of the projects, The Michigan Bloodspot Environmental Epidemiology Project, will utilize the State of Michigan’s newborn blood spot repository to investigate whether researchers can obtain environmental exposure and genetic information from the available bloodspots, said Nigel Paneth of Michigan State University and UM’s Howard Hu, co-principal investigators on the project along with Douglas Rudin from the Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at Wayne State University. 

The project will link the blood spot database (with the families’ permission) to the data collected on families who will enroll in the arm of the National Children’s Study now being conducted in the state by another team of URC researchers.

“This study provides a unique opportunity to enlarge our understanding of environmental hazards to reproduction and development,” Paneth said. “We should be able to have a much better understanding of how the environment shapes the trajectory of development in children with the findings of this study.”

The researchers say that the project also will set the foundation for developing a virtual scientific center on environment and health in Michigan that will make use of the strengths and skills of all three universities, each of which has notable strengths in this important public health arena.

The Michigan Bloodspot Environmental Epidemiology Project will receive a total of $450,000 in URC seed funding over three years.

The second winning research proposal will study the affects of air pollution on asthma in the Dearborn-area Arab American population.

Investigators brought together on this proposal have been actively engaged with members of the team in air pollution or respiratory issues in Southwest Detroit for many years, according to Mary Dereski, associate professor at Wayne State University and principal investigator of the project.

“Our mutual concern is the impacts of air pollution on the incidence of asthma not only in children, but also in the elderly population of Arab Americans in Detroit’s neighboring highly polluted city of Dearborn,” Dereski said in a cover letter describing the project.

“Results of this study will be instrumental in identifying the causative agents and suggesting relevant preventative measures that can be taken to lessen acute asthma events in these vulnerable populations,” said Helena Krouse, co-principal investigator and professor of nursing at Wayne State University.

Experts from all three universities are brought together from their respective fields through these seed monies. This funding opportunity allows for an unprecedented collaboration and communication between public health, population science and bench science, Dereski says.

Co-principal investigators on the project also include Jack Harkema, distinguished professor in MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Masako Morishita, assistant research scientist in U-M’s School o f Public Health.

The asthma study will receive about $317,000 in URC seed funding over three years.

“Both of the funded projects demonstrate significant collective expertise in public health across the three campuses,” Mason said.

The URC sponsored a symposium on Environmental Health Sciences in January 2010, one of its new Symposia Series. One of the outcomes of the symposium was the establishment of four committees that have continued to meet and explore areas of collaboration.

“The discussion and committee formation that came out of the symposium really became the catalyst for the funding opportunity,” said URC program director Vince Nystrom.

The funding opportunity for environmental health research is the second such seed funding program.

In 2008, the URC designated $900,000 over three years for “revolutionary but feasible” alternative energy research. One of the winning research projects in that round went on to receive a $12 million research award from the National Science Foundation.

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