Fish, floods and diabetes under scrutiny with four new GHI Seed Grants

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Kenyan women use Lake Victoria for washing household goods, even in the midst of a cyanobacterial bloom. (Photo by Jessica Corman.)

University of Wisconsin-Madison investigators will address flood forecasting and health implications, protecting natural fisheries, tracing the safety of wild-caught fish and improving diabetes care with four new Seed Grants from the UW-Madison Global Health Institute (GHI).

The GHI Seed Grants support UW-Madison efforts to launch new global research projects and make them competitive for sustained external funding. Seed grants allow researchers to reach across disciplines for collaborators and make many projects possible.

Jessica Corman, a postdoctoral research associate in the Center for Limnology, appreciates finding funding that allows her to link her basic science work about what causes algae blooms in Lake Victoria with a collaborator’s knowledge of how people use the resources in the lake.

“It’s difficult to find resources that bridge the gap between theoretical science and application.”—Jessica Corman

Corman’s project will empower women to understand and address the threats to water and fish that are necessary for survival.

GHI received 19 proposals this year that were evaluated by a panel of experts from across campus. Investigators received up to $50,000 to launch their projects.

2016 Seed Grant recipients:

  • Paul Block, Ph.D., assistant professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering. “Flood Prediction to Support Advanced Disaster Preparedness and Public Health Risks: Understanding, Development, and Application”
  • Jessica Corman, Ph.D., postdoctoral research associate, Center for Limnology. “Water, Women, and Fisheries: Addressing Two Ecological Realities Impacting Human Health at Lake Victoria”
  • Peter McIntyre, Ph.D., assistant professor, Center for Limnology, and James Hurley, Ph.D., associate professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering and director, UW Aquatic Sciences Center. “Polluted fish and cycles of poverty: tracing the global scope of mercury contamination of fisheries”
  • James Svenson, MD, MS, associate professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, School of Medicine and Public Health; Kevin Wyne, PA-C, faculty associate, Family Medicine.  “Rural Guatemala Diabetes Initiative”

“The seed funding will allow us to add another dimension to our research, specifically to better understand the predictability of health indicators associated with flood-related conditions,” says Block, whose ongoing work has focused on season-ahead flood predictions. “Linking in health indicators explicitly links science, hydrology and society,” he says.

The Seed Grant gives Svenson resources to focus on developing a mobile app to help patients with diabetes. “The idea is to enable minimally trained providers to be able to provide care,” he says. “A mobile app is the way to go.”

Rural patients, who need to wait for a ride to the clinic in San Lucas, often just don’t go in for care. Since good cell phone coverage is available even in rural Guatemala, health care workers will be able to use an app on their mobile phones to record blood sugar levels, provide guidance and adjust medicines.

This is the second year a Seed Grant has been used to develop a mobile app. Working with collaborators in South Africa, Janis Tupesis, MD, GHI-Graduate Medical Education liaison, is near to launching an app to improve emergency care.

Here’s a closer look at this year’s Seed Grant projects. For more information, visit: http://ghi.wisc.edu/research-awards/seed-grants/.

“Flood Prediction to Support Advanced Disaster Preparedness and Public Health Risks: Understanding, Development, and Application”

Principal investigator: Paul Block, assistant professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Flood catastrophes lead all natural hazards in terms of impacts on society. Most floods occur in developing regions and tropical regions where the impact on public health is substantial. In this project, we propose to develop a global flood prediction model to support disaster preparedness and managements for potential flood and flood-induced public health risks.

“Water, Women, and Fisheries: Addressing Two Ecological Realities Impacting Human Health at Lake Victoria”

Principal investigator: Jessica Corman, Ph.D., postdoctoral research associate, Center for Limnology

Lake Victoria represents the largest tropical lake by surface area in Africa and supports the largest freshwater lake fishery in the world. Population growth, land cultivation, nutrient pollution, climate variability, resource extraction, intensive fishing and other stressors have dramatically altered water quality and fisheries ecology, affecting 30 million people living around the lake. Satellite imagery and direct observation show harmful algae blooms and water hyacinth invasions, which can negatively impact livelihoods and health. This project will investigate the interrelationship between these two ecological realities and empower communities through women-led initiatives and interventions to reduce impacts on fisheries livelihoods and community health.

“Polluted fish and cycles of poverty: tracing the global scope of mercury contamination of fisheries”

Principal investigators: Peter McIntyre, Ph.D., assistant professor, Center for Limnology; James Hurley, Ph.D., associate professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering; director, UW Aquatic Sciences Center

This project addresses an unrecognized facet of the cycle of poverty: contamination of food fish with neurotoxins. Mercury from global and local sources biomagnifies in fish, and even low dietary levels can impair human cognitive development. The investigators will analyze archived tissues from four continents, yielding an overall assessment of the threat posed to hundreds of millions of poor people. This work will set the stage for a major initiative to document and publicize the safety of eating wild-caught freshwater fish.

“Rural Guatemala Diabetes Initiative”

Principal investigators: James Svenson, MD, MS, associate professor, Emergency Medicine; Kevin Wyne, PA-C, faculty associate, Family Medicine

San Lucas Tolimán is a town of 17,000 in southern Guatemala, and the population is experiencing rapid growth in rates of chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes. There are many barriers to effective treatment of diabetes, including access to care and medications. Empowering health promoters to monitor and provide treatment in their communities is an effective way to improve glucose control and long-term outcomes for patients with diabetes in this region. The investigators will collaborate with a group from Stanford University to develop a computer-based app that can be used by village health promoters to monitor their diabetic patients.

By Ann Grauvogl/ May 2, 2016

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