Environmental Factor, February 2009, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Leaders Discuss University of New Mexico Research
By Eddy Ball
A visit last month to Albuquerque, NM, by NIEHS leaders Sam Wilson, M.D., and Allen Dearry, Ph.D., brought together then U.S. Representative and Senator-elect Tom Udall and members of his staff with NIH/NIEHS grantees at the University of New Mexico (UNM). The December 17 meeting featured an information session highlighting NIEHS-funded research and collaborative public health efforts involving the university.
The event was an opportunity to showcase a program that, Wilson explained, "exemplifies the ways cross-disciplinary efforts involving basic, community-based participatory and clinical research can be translated effectively through education and community outreach to impact directly the lives of citizens at their homes and workplaces."
Representing UNM at the information session were six individuals from across the spectrum of the university's health sciences leadership:
- Paul Roth, M.D., UNM executive vice president for Health Sciences and dean of the UNM School of Medicine
- John Pieper, Pharm.D., dean of the UNM College of Pharmacy and UNM Health Sciences Center (HSC) vice president for research
- Pope Moseley, M.D., chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at the UNM School of Medicine and deputy director of the New Mexico Center for Environmental Health Sciences (http://hsc.unm.edu/enviroHealth/)
- Scott Burchiel, Ph.D., associate dean for research and professor in the UNM College of Pharmacy, director of the New Mexico Center for Environmental Health Sciences and NIEHS center grant (http://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/sc/detail.cfm?appl_id=7048685) principal investigator (PI)
- Stephani Hines, assistant dean for assessment in the UNM College of Pharmacy, environmental health specialist and member of the NIEHS National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council
- Johnnye Lewis, Ph.D., director of the UNM NIEHS Center Community Outreach and Engagement Program and UNM-HSC Community Environmental Health Program and its Diné Network for Environmental Health and PI on NIEHS risk assessment (http://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/sc/detail.cfm?appl_id=7462288) and environmental justice (http://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/sc/detail.cfm?appl_id=7230475) grants
Following remarks by Udall and an NIH/NIEHS overview by Wilson, Pieper underscored UNM institutional commitments to environmental health science. He also talked about collaborative efforts with the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency and other government partners in the state - such as Sandia National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute and the Eastern Navajo Health Board. To give Udall and his staff a better sense of research and translation at UNM, presenters also went into greater detail about a few representative programs.
Burchiel outlined initiatives in exposure biology and border health/asthma research. Hines reported on successful education outreach programs using the student edition of the NIEHS journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) to compliment high school and college science curricula. In her talk, Lewis reviewed community-based measures to protect people living on Navajo tribal lands from widespread pollution of water supplies by uranium tailings left over from mining operations - a suspected cause of elevated kidney and related disease among residents of the area.
The final presentation by Moseley underscored UNM successes in integrating environmental health and clinical outcomes. He pointed with pride to nearly two-fold increase in NIH funding for internal medicine research at UNM since 2001 and the rapid expansion of translation of research into the community.
The visit was part of an ongoing effort by the NIEHS senior leadership team to support grantees in the field. The series of site visits and meetings throughout the country initiated by Wilson following his appointment in August 2007 has also helped foster inter-program and interagency partnerships to leverage funding and other resources, as well as raise the profile of NIEHS nationally as the premier environmental public health component of NIH.
Impacting Decision Making at the Cabinet Level
Outreach efforts by the NIHS leadership team may well have unforeseen benefits when the new administration's cabinet formally begins work on January 20. During the spring of 2008, President Obama's Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis was one of two U.S. representatives who attended a similar information session on May 27 with Wilson, Dearry, and NIEHS grantees John Peters, M.D., Sc.D., Frank Gilliland, M.D., Ph.D., James Gauderman, Ph.D., Andrea Hricko and Dean Carmen Puliafito, M.D., of the University of Southern California (USC) Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles.
The session (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2008/september/wilsonbriefstakeholders.cfm) was a briefing for the representatives about current NIEHS-funded research and new initiatives in the areas of air pollution and children's health. Solis and U. S. Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard both represented areas of Los Angeles, where vulnerable populations, such as children, are exposed to high levels of airborne particulate matter and gases from exhaust.
One outcome of Solis' meeting with Wilson and Peters could well be that the new secretary will be more likely than before to think of NIEHS and the environmental health sciences community as she pursues her advocacy of fair employment practices, environmental justice and health equity in the months and years to come. Like other government representatives who have participated in NIEHS information sessions, Solis may also have a keener sense of the economic development impact of environmental health sciences funding.