With its 2021 grants and awards, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Institute (GHI) again funds projects from across campus and across disciplines. From traditional knowledge to land use to cervical cancer, faculty, staff, clinicians and students will use the awards to look at the complex determinants of health and well-being.
The awards go to investigators from seven schools and colleges: Engineering, Veterinary Medicine, Education, Medicine and Public Health, Agricultural and Life Sciences, Letters & Science, and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. They include three Seed Grants, the largest of the awards at up to $25,000 each, that are designed to fund work that can lead to further outside funding. GHI also awarded one $5,000 Clinical Research Award, one Virtual Visiting Scholar Award (a new award of $2,500), six Graduate Student Awards of up to $3,000 each and one Henry Anderson III Graduate Student Award in Environmental and Occupational Public Health. Faculty & Staff Travel Awards were not offered this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
“The Seed Grant enabled us to move into a new frontier of land use and health questions in the Brazilian Amazon.”—Holly Gibbs, GHI Seed Grant recipient
“The Seed Grant opened the door to new research innovations,” says Holly Gibbs, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Geography and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. “Without it, we would not have a chance to study the health effects of agricultural intensification and deforestation in Brazil.”
Other recipients echoed Gibbs’ sentiment that the GHI grants and awards made their projects possible. For Diego Román, an assistant professor of Curriculum and Instruction in the School of Education, a Seed Grant helps cover the expense of gathering data in Ecuador to understand an Indigenous community’s response to COVID-19. Tana Chongsuwat, M.D., a postdoctoral trainee in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, will use a Clinical Research Grant to work with a Ugandan non-governmental organization that will interview men and women about cervical cancer.
Here’s a look at their projects with a complete list of recipients below.
Traditional knowledge in the Galapagos
Diego Román, a native of Ecuador, has worked in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands since 2010 to connect the long-term sustainability of the area with K-12 instruction in schools. He has also been working with the Salasakas, an Indigenous migrant community from the Andes living on one of the islands.
Román has documented how the Salasakas are preserving their identity far from their homeland in the Ecuadoran highlands. The new work will look at how the COVID pandemic impacted the community, emphasizing the importance of Indigenous treatments and knowledge. “What we want to know is this community’s own narratives and practices and how they make sense of what is happening,” Román says. “We want to do a community-centered project, working with the community, understanding their own experiences and narratives and how they have used their own knowledges to confront this pandemic.”
Graduate student Gioconda Coello will visit the Galapagos Islands and the Salasakas’ homeland in the mountains to see how narratives around health and traditional health knowledge have been used and transmitted between generations. Part of this research will be looking at how the Salasakas have developed new relationships with the plants, animals and landscape of the Galapagos, which are different than those of the Andes. The research is part of an international movement to recognize Indigenous good-living philosophies—how people eat, live, educate and care for themselves and the land—that are often dismissed as superstition or not real science.
“The GHI Seed Grant is essential for this project because it will allow us to collect pilot data in a region outside the United States,” Román says. He expects the results and publications from the project will be key in applying for external funding.
Beating cervical cancer in Uganda
Trained in the United States as a family medicine physician, Chongsuwat didn’t learn much about the burden of cervical cancer. In the U.S., routine screening mostly keeps the cancer in check or detects it at an early, treatable stage.
When Chongsuwat looked for ideas for a quality improvement project, she was surprised her Ugandan partner put cervical cancer at the top of the list. That’s how she discovered cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths for women in many low- to middle-income countries where 80 percent of the cases are discovered in advanced stages of the disease.
“Going into it, I thought we had solutions because cervical cancer is not new to us,” Chongsuwat says. “Then I started digging deeper.” She was motivated to dig even deeper as she discovered limited resources to perform routine screenings and provide treatment.
Her Clinical Research Award project looks to the Ugandan organization, Gulu Women Economic Development & Globalization, to interview men and women in northern Uganda about their understanding of cervical cancer, from attitudes around screening to risk factors and treatment. With COVID-19 travel restrictions, the partnership with local collaborators is vital to the project’s success, and the GHI Clinical Research Award helps cover the extra expenses. Chongsuwat also will review relevant research, look at available resources and develop evidence-based practices for future screening, treatment and prevention.
“I’m trying to do some systems thinking on what are the actual barriers, the social determinants of health and why women haven’t been able to get the screening and treatment that they need,” Chongsuwat says. “The GHI Clinical Research Award means that I have the opportunity to expand the research that we can do on addressing disparities around cervical cancer and thus strengthen the partnership between UW-Madison and the partner organization in Uganda doing the field work.”
Understanding the health impacts of agricultural production in Brazil
As agricultural production in Brazil has skyrocketed, the Gibbs Land Use and the Environment (GLUE) lab, led by Gibbs, has spent a decade studying the impacts of increasing soybean and cattle production on forest conservation. The lab combines big data, spatial analysis econometric statistics and field work to track the ongoing expansion of agriculture and what it means for biodiversity, climate change, and local communities. The 2021 GHI Seed Grant will allow Gibbs and her colleagues to also look at the impact on human health—especially cancer—from agriculture, deforestation and climate shocks. Doctoral candidate Kaitlyn Sims from the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, received a GHI Henry Anderson III Graduate Student Award in Environmental and Occupational Public Health, to also work on the project.
Brazil has become the world’s leading soy producer, increasing from 1 million tons in 1969 to 124,845 tons in 2019. It’s also the world’s leading pesticide consumer, and the use of chemicals increased nearly fivefold between 1997 and 2017.
The project was prompted when Marin Skidmore, Ph.D., a co-principal investigator also from the Nelson Institute and the Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, conducted research in the Amazon and repeatedly heard “when soy arrives in a region, cancer follows.” “This phrase stuck with her as she returned to UW,” Gibbs says. “And she and the team at Gibbs Lab created a plan to see if data could confirm this local knowledge.”
Many pesticides are carcinogenic, and there’s evidence that pesticides can leach into the local water supply. With support from these GHI grants, the GLUE lab will use 30 years of national data to study childhood and adult cancer rates through the expansion of soy production and pesticide use. The work will also highlight the tensions between food production and human health, look more closely at communities most severely impacted by contamination and offer insights into solutions to tailor agriculture to further human health.
“In our GHI study, we aim to understand whether this low-level, chronic exposure to pesticides does result in increased rates of cancer,” Gibbs says. “This project will provide the first causal analysis of indirect exposure to agricultural pesticides and cancer, and the first such study at a national scale.”
GHI awarded a total of 12 grants and awards for 2021. Here is the complete list of recipients:
Combatting antimicrobial resistance: A complex systems approach.
PI: Jessica Hite, Ph.D., Department of Pathobiological Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, with UW-Madison’s Döerte Döpfer, DVM, Ph.D., professor, Department of Food Animal Production; Jingyi Huang, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Soil Science, and Johanna Elfenbein, DVM, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Pathobiological Sciences, and Eric Fevre, International Livestock Research Institute and University of Liverpool
Health, climate, and agriculture: A case study of Brazil’s Amazon and Cerrado biomes
PI: Holly Gibbs, Ph.D., Department of Geography and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, with UW-Madison’s Marin Skidmore, Ph.D., postdoctoral scholar, Nelson Institute and Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and Kaitlyn Sims, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.
Traditional health knowledge and COVID-19: Health narratives of a migrant Salasaka Indigenous community in the Galapagos
PI: Diego Román, Ph.D., M.A., M.S., Department of Curriculum and Instruction, School of Education, with UW-Madison’s Gioconda Coello, Department of Curriculum and Instruction; Luiz Gonzalez, School of Medicine and Public Health; and Gabriella Gaus-Hinoja, Department of Counseling Psychology
CLINICAL RESEARCH AWARD
Investigating the understanding, perceptions and attitudes toward cervical cancer in Gulu, UgandaPI: Tana Chongsuwat, M.D., Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, School of Medicine and Public Health
GRADUATE STUDENT RESEARCH AWARDS
Linking transportation planning and public health: From human behavior to policy design
Yicong Yang, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture, College of Letters & Science
Microgrid + Micromobility for Health Care
Rebecca Alcock, Ph.D. student, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, College of Engineering, with Justin Boutilier, Ph.D., assistant professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Lennon Rodgers, Ph.D., director, Grainger Engineer Design Innovation Lab, UW Makerspace
Midwifery and Maternal Health in Haiti
Corinne Hale, Ph.D. student, Department of Anthropology, School of Letters and Science, with Claire Wendland, Ph.D., professor, Department of Anthropology
One health and building bridges: An emerging disease at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Sierra Leone
Leah Owens, Ph.D., DVM candidate, Department of Pathobiological Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, with Tony Goldberg, Ph.D., DVM, professor, Department of Pathobiological Science
Optimization of Magnetic Particle Imaging for Brain Activity Acquisition
Ilhan Bok, doctoral student, Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering, with Jiamian Hu, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, UW-Madison; Etay Hay, University of Toronto, and Venkat Chandrasekhar, Northwestern University
SSRI use during pregnancy has adverse impacts on placenta structure and function
Rafael Reis Domingues, DVM, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, with Laura Hernandez, Ph.D., associate professor, and Milo Wiltbank, Ph.D., professor, Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences
HENRY ANDERSON III GRADUATE STUDENT AWARD IN ENVIRONMENTAL AND OCCUPATIONAL PUBLIC HEALTH
Health, climate and agriculture: A case study of Brazil’s Amazon and Cerrado biomes
Kaitlyn Sims, doctoral student, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, with Marin Skidmore, Ph.D., postdoctoral scholar, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, and Holly Gibbs, Ph.D., associate professor of Geography, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
VIRTUAL VISITING SCHOLAR AWARD
Combatting antimicrobial resistance: A complex systems approach
Jessica Hite, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Pathobiological Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, with UW-Madison’s Döerte Döpfer, DVM, Ph.D., professor, Department of Food Animal Production; Jingyi Huang, PhlD., assistant professor, Department of Soil Science, and Johanna Elfenbein, DVM, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Pathobiological Sciences, and Eric Fevre, International Livestock Research Institute and University of Liverpool, and Andrew deRoos, Santa Fe Institute and University of Amsterdam
By Ann Grauvogl/ May 19, 2021