National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Funds Environmental Health Research Center for New Mexico

           The UNM Health Sciences Center and Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute have received a $4 million grant from the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to study asthma, cancer and other environmental health issues that impact the Southwest.


The New Mexico NIEHS Center will allow more than 60 federally funded investigators to share facilities, equipment and scientific expertise as they conduct environmental health research. And, noted Scott Burchiel, Ph.D., director of the New Mexico NIEHS Center, the center provides a way for researchers to directly apply the answers they find.


            "This center marries basic science to public health outcomes," said Burchiel, also associate dean for research and a professor of toxicology in the UNM College of Pharmacy. "We ask questions that can be applied directly to environmental protection and public health."


The New Mexico NIEHS Center is one of 23 centers located throughout the United States and is the only institution in the Mountain West. The NIEHS is one of eight institutes that make up the National Institutes of Health.


The New Mexico NIEHS Center actually has been in development for the past four years through an earlier grant from the NIEHS.  Work began when a group of research scientists, medical doctors, epidemiologists, and communities came together to find a way to handle requests for assistance on environmental health issues. 


Among those issues are concerns experienced by Native American communities in the Southwest, including kidney disease and environmental exposures from employment in the mining industry and close proximities to uranium mines. Another issue is an increased prevalence of asthma among children along the U.S.-Mexico border at El Paso/Juarez.


The center's mission is to perform basic and translational research to address those and other regionally relevant environmental public health issues facing Southwestern communities. The center will study not only the genetic susceptibility factors that lead to increased risk of environmental diseases, but also the influence of social economic status and behavioral issues on environmental disease.


"Emerging research indicates that social economic and behavioral issues may play important roles in triggering environmental disease," said Burchiel.


Rather than bring investigators together only in a traditional bricks-and-mortar way, the New Mexico NIEHS Center allows them to purchase equipment to share and provides outlets such as community outreach and education programs and training programs for health workers and teachers to apply the findings of their research.


            The center will have three main areas of study: environmental disease and toxicology, environmental lung disease, and population health, including behavioral/social and epidemiological research.


The center encourages partnerships with communities through its Community Outreach and Education Program.  While continuing established interactions with Native American communities in the region, the center is also forming partnerships in the Albuquerque South Valley and along the U.S.-Mexico border.


            "The center gives communities the technology and expertise to address their environmental health concerns and the communities give the center a snapshot of what's happening public health wise," said Burchiel.


            The center also has implemented an outreach program designed to educate schoolchildren about the environmental health sciences. In addition, the center will also administer a "Pilot Project Program" to support emerging environmental studies and investigators, encourage innovative projects, build alliances, and promote continuous discoveries. While still in development last year, the New Mexico NIEHS Center awarded $50,000 in pilot projects.
Contact: Lynn Melton, 272-3322

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