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Two PRIME grants awarded to SWCOEH & Human Genetics faculty

HOUSTON – UTHealth School of Public Health recently awarded PRIME grants to Wei-Chung Su, Ph.D., and Goo Jun, Ph.D., faculty members in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences (EHGES).

PRIME is a mentor-based program that provides funding for pilot studies at UTHealth School of Public Health. The program is intended for new investigators who have not yet served as principal investigators on a research study. The PRIME funds should be used to begin a study that will be developed into an application for a significant, independent research award such as an RO1.

"These two faculty members are conducting innovative research in environmental occupational health sciences and human genetics," says Alanna C. Morrison, Ph.D., professor and EHGES department chair. "We are pleased that the school has recognized their talents."

Wei-Chung Su, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH), received funding for his research titled "Development of a Mobile Aerosol Lung Deposition Apparatus (MALDA) for On-site Workplace Ultrafine Particle Lung Deposition Measurement."

Su has developed a new experimental approach that involves 3D printing replicas of the delicate lower airways in human lungs and using the replicas to model the flow of dangerous, ultrafine particles into the deep regions of the lungs.

Ultrafine particles generated by operations such as welding and burning, pose serious occupational health risks when inhaled and deposited deep in a worker's lung. However, because of study limitations and the lack of replicas of the lower airways in humans, the nature of how ultrafine particles are deposited in our respiratory system is not completely understood.

"As these type of data have never been collected before, Su's research provides an important first step into understanding how nanoparticles impact the respiratory health not only of workers, but of residents who live in heavily-polluted areas, particularly children or adults with pre-existing health conditions," says Elaine Symanski, Ph.D., professor and SWCOEH director.

Su also plans to develop and locate moveable lung models in indoor workplaces and outdoor environments to better characterize human exposures to ultrafine particles in occupational and community settings.

Goo Jun, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Human Genetics Center (HGC) is receiving funding to identify metabolites and metabolic pathways involved with prediabetes in a Mexican American population from Starr County, Texas.

Jun's studies will combine metabolomic, genomic and other high dimensional data to identify the earliest changes leading to diabetes, when the disease is most amenable to preventive interventions. This approach is a marked departure from the more commonly used palliative treatment efforts after a chronic disease has developed.

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