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Published on July 7, 2017 by Derek Bannister

2017 Human Health and the Environment seed grant recipients announced

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Human Health and the Environment seed grants for 2017 have been awarded to a pool of interdisciplinary researchers at Penn State. These seed grants were funded by eight separate Penn State research entities and institutes which collectively contributed over $500,000. ICS Associate Director Vasant Honavar, ICS Associate Keith Cheng, and ICS Affiliate Ali Borhan are among the 12 recipients.

The principal investigators — along with their affiliated colleges and project titles — who were awarded Human Health and the Environment seed grants for 2017 are:

  • Sheri A. Berenbaum ­­­— College of the Liberal Arts, “Cognitive Changes Associated with Hormonal Treatment for Breast Cancer”
  • Nita Bharti — Eberly College of Science, “Environmentally Linked Viruses and Dynamic Transmission Networks”
  • Ali Borhan — College of Engineering, “Patient-Specific Prediction of Susceptibility to Acute Lung Injury Resulting from Exposure to Environmental Pollutants and Toxic Industrial Chemicals”
  • Keith C. Cheng — College of Medicine, “Digital environmental monitoring of human water supply watersheds by high-throughput phenotyping of plankton and meiofauna”
  • Guangqing Chi — College of Agricultural Sciences, “From Environmental Change to Left-behind Children’s Well-being in Rural Highlands”
  • Andris Freivalds — College of Engineering, “UPRITE (Universal Personal Rebalance Information Technology Enhancement) A Device for Anticipating and Preventing Elderly Falls”
  • Adam Glick — College of Agricultural Sciences, “Therapeutic Modulation of the Tumor Immune Microenvironment in Skin Cancer with Localized Activation of Nanoparticle Delivered siRNA”
  • Vasant Gajanan Honavar — College of Information Sciences and Technology, “Title: Predictive Modeling of Health Risks and Outcomes from Clinical, Environmental, Contextual, Behavioral Data: A Proof-of-Concept Study Focused on Breast Cancer in Central Pennsylvania”
  • Scott H. Medina — College of Engineering, “Drug-Loaded Antimicrobial Nanogels for Combinatorial Therapy of Antibiotic-Resistant Tuberculosis”
  • Shedra Amy Snipes — College of Health and Human Development, “Using an Environmental Justice Lens: An Integrated Pest Management and mHealth Program Aimed to Reduce Pesticides Exposures for Vulnerable Hispanic Mushroom Farmers in Pennsylvania”
  • Randy Lee Vander Wal — College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, “Identification of Toxicity Parameters Associated with Combustion Produced PM2.5 Surface Chemistry and Particle Structure by in Vitro Assays”

These researchers will be conducting interdisciplinary research on a wide range of topics, including environmentally linked changes in health, the reduction of health risks using technology, and the improvement of knowledge and safe practices in agriculture.

“Seed grant programs like this unleash the creativity and imagination of our faculty, inspire new interdisciplinary collaborations and generate preliminary data for novel research directions,” said Tom Richard, director of the Institutes of Energy and the Environment and a professor of agricultural and biological engineering. “I am particularly inspired by work that can help children and disadvantaged communities, including communities in Pennsylvania where children suffer asthma and other respiratory diseases at several times the normal rates; farmworkers and their families exposed to pesticides; and health of children dislocated from their homes and communities as a result of climate change — a tragic situation that is already occurring in many parts of the world.”

The Penn State College of Medicine, the Penn State Cancer Institute, the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, the Social Sciences Research Institute, the Clinical Translational Science Institute, the Materials Research Institute, the Institute for CyberScience and the Institutes of Energy and the Environment all solicited research proposals — further underscoring the interdisciplinary nature of these grants.

“We had an exceptional pool of proposals from faculty across the university,” Richard said. “The projects address emerging contaminants well as legacy environmental problems that seriously impact human health.”

Jim Marden, associate director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and professor of biology, said the application pool was “mind-bogglingly diverse.” Marden noted that seed grants of this sort help elevate the importance of research at Penn State, encouraging faculty members to think of creative and high-risk, high-reward research topics.

Applications for seed grants for research in Future Energy Supply, Smart Energy Systems, Climate and Ecosystem Change and Water and Biogeochemical Cycles will become available during the fall semester.

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