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Research, Projects, and Activities

Faculty Research

Robert Block, MD, MPH

1. National Institute of Nursing Research R01

“Longitudinal Changes in Weight and Biology in the Pregnancy-postpartum Period and Subsequent Cardiometabolic Risk”

To improve our understanding of the nature of biological changes in the pregnancy-postpartum period that may predict cardiometabolic risk, we proposed a cost-efficient longitudinal study extending from the first trimester through 3 years postpartum that capitalizes on the infrastructure of an ongoing pregnancy cohort.

Collaborating institution: Rutgers University

2. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute R01

“Eicosapentaenoic acid activation of free fatty acid receptor 4 prevents fibrosis, microvascular rarefaction, and diastolic dysfunction; implications for heart failure with preserved ejection fraction”

To improve our understanding of how eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) acts to reduce risk of heart failure, using both epidemiological data and basic science mechanistic research.

Collaborating Institutions: Pennsylvania State University and the University of Minnesota.

3. National Institute of Bioimaging and Bioengineering U01

“Unobstructive and Affordable Blood Pressure Monitoring via Pulse Transit”

To study the ability to measure blood pressure using arterial flow rate, measured by a variety of devices, including video, and develop technologies which may be used in the future to measure blood pressure without the need for a blood pressure cuff.

Collaborating Institutions: Michigan State University, Georgia Tech, and the University of Maryland.

4. Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Rochester, Pilot Program

“Familial Hypercholesterolemia: Improving Health Via Songwriting”

To study the effects of music therapy on patients with an LDL cholesterol >=190mg/dL (many of whom have familial hypercholesterolemia) on their LDL cholesterol, health behaviors, and elements of Self-Determination Theory (motivation, relatedness, and competence).

Collaborating Institutions: University of Rochester Eastman School of Music, Rochester Regional Health, Spectrum Creative Arts, and Mount Tabor Counseling.

5. Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI)

“Patients with Familial Hypercholesterolemia Sharing Goals and Difficult Decisions

To study what patients with familial hypercholesterolemia think about their diagnosis and how to reduce their risk of having a cardiovascular disease event. To generate ideas for future research projects.

Isabel Diana Fernandez, MD, MPH, PhD

1. National Institute of Nursing Research R01

‘Longitudinal Changes in Weight and Biology in the Pregnancy-Postpartum Period and Subsequent Cardiometabolic Risk

More than any other time in the life course, pregnancy marks a period of extreme physiological change as the maternal immune, endocrine, and metabolic systems rapidly adapt to sustain the growing fetus. Evidence suggests that for some women, physiological changes may persist well into the postpartum, conferring increased long-term risk of chronic conditions.

This cohort study examines the effect of immune, endocrine, metabolic, diet, and physical activity, and weight changes in pregnancy on adverse cardiometabolic profile at 3 years postpartum.  This project will:  (1) describe the biological changes occurring during pregnancy and the postpartum; (2) develop model to predict risk for adverse cardiometabolic profiles; and (3) identify the factors amenable to intervention to reduce the risk of developing adverse metabolic.

2. University of Rochester, Department of Public Health Science Pilot Award

‘The Healthy Eye Project:  using data science methods to relate grocery store purchases data with good eye health’.                                                                                                                       

This study evaluates the feasibility of linking food and supplement purchases from the Wegmans Shoppers Club database with the USDA Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies and nutrient information on supplement content using data science methodology in a manner that protects consumer privacy and protected health information.  We will describe the eye-healthy purchases from Wegmans Shoppers Card data and the prevalence of four diet-related eye diseases (DR, AMD, retinal vascular occlusions and dry eyes) followed in the Flaum Eye Institute (FEI).

Collaborating Institute:  Wegmans Food Markets, Inc.

3. National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities                                                   

Smart Phone Delivered Culture-Specific Healthy Eating Intervention for Rural Mexican Immigrant Women with Low Health Literacy’

To address poor quality dietary intake and the high burden of nutrition-related non-communicable diseases in Mexican immigrant farm workers women (MIFW).  We will develop and pilot test a food photography app and food-image recognition algorithms to deliver a healthy eating intervention program that is accessible across levels of health literacy, culturally relevant, and deliverable using mobile phone technology to improve dietary intake. MIFW are vital to the U.S agricultural industry, yet they and their families are among the poorest, most isolated, marginalized and underserved groups in our country.  It is not surprising then that MIFW experience disproportionate rates of nutrition-related non-communicable diseases (NR-NCD).

Participating Schools:  UofR School of Nursing and Medical School

4. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development U01

“eMOMS of Rochester:  Electronically-Mediated Weight Interventions for Pregnant and Postpartum Women”                                                                                                               

The contribution of pregnancy-related weight to the increasing prevalence of obesity among women of childbearing age has been discussed extensively.  Body mass index (BMI) prior to pregnancy, the amount of weight gained during pregnancy, and the weight retained postpartum have consistently emerged as interrelated causal factors influencing weight development among women of reproductive age.  Thus, pregnancy-related weight gain cannot be conceptualized in isolation but rather within the larger context of weight gain prevention and control in young adult women who are undergoing multiple transitions characteristic of this life stage.  This randomized clinical trial tested the effectiveness of an electronically mediated behavioral intervention adapted to the transition from pregnancy to postpartum life to slow the accumulation of weight in childbearing women during pregnancy and until 12 months postpartum in a socioeconomic and racial/ethnic diverse sample.  

Collaborating Institute:  Cornell University

Courtney Marie Cora Jones, PhD, MPH

1. “Community Paramedicine to Reduce Emergency Department Visits among Older Adults”

This grant evaluates a care transitions intervention targeted at high-risk older adults who are treated in the emergency department and discharged home with the overarching goal of reducing preventable repeat ED visits and hospital admissions. The intervention leverages emergency medical service providers to conduct a home visit and phone calls with each patient to encourage PCP follow-up, perform medication reconciliation, and improve identification of red flags.

2. Epidemiology of Opioid Overdose and Opioid-related Chief Complaints Presenting to the Emergency Care Setting

This project aims to describe the epidemiology of emergency care visits including ambulance response and emergency department visits for opioid use disorder including overdose and other opioid-related chief complaints (e.g., skin and soft tissue infections, cardiac conditions, etc.). Specifically, the intent is to compare patient-level characteristics to identify patients at high-risk for morbidity and mortality.

3. Risk Stratification and Triage of Patients with Traumatic Brain Injury

This grant evaluated clinical signs and symptoms of patients with head trauma who present to the prehospital setting to improve the risk stratification and rapid identification of patients of who require neurosurgical and trauma care resources. An additional goal of this project was to determine whether the use of pre-injury coagulopathic medication, such as platelet inhibitors and anti-coagulants, influences in the incidence and severity of intracranial hemorrhage.

Yu Liu, Ph.D., M.P.H.

1. University of Rochester Medical Center - Department of Public Health Sciences

“Leveraging social norm and behavioral economics to promote HIV testing and PrEP among young men who have sex with men”

This study explore components of social comparison and social norm methods to stimulate intrinsic reward mechanism among young MSM in Rochester and Buffalo, NY to motivate frequent HIV testing and PrEP uptake/adherence.

2. University of Rochester, Center for AIDS Research - School of Medicine and Dentistry (SMD) and School of Nursing (SON) Joint Award of Excellence in HIV/AIDS research

 “A pilot study of multilevel determinants of HIV testing self-efficacy among young black men who have sex with men”

In this pilot study, we propose to apply theory-guided, multimodal methods to explore the interconnectivity of socioecological risk factors, and quantify how these factors directly/indirectly influence the determining constructs (mastery performance, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion and physiological state) of HIV testing self-efficacy among young black MSM.

3. University of Rochester, Department of Public Health Science Pilot Award

“Assessing the role of HIV disclosure in health-related quality-of-life among older people living with HIV in the era of combination antiretroviral therapy”

This study will assess the prevalence, characteristics and biopsychosocial determinants of HIV disclosure status among virologically suppressed older people living with HIV. It will also investigate the effect of various HIV disclosure status, as well as pathways in relation to both physical and mental health-related quality of life, among this population.

4. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases R01

“Multi-Component Intervention Packages for Chinese Men who Have Sex with Men (MSM) (China-MP3 Project)”

In this project, we initiated collaboration with gay-friendly community based organizations and government to test efficacy of short message intervention and peer counseling on high-risk behavior change, linkage-to-care , antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation as well as retention among newly-diagnosed HIV-infected MSM in Beijing, China. We also use secondary data to assess determinants of sexual behaviors, HIV/STD infections as well as barriers and facilitators related to the HIV care continuum.

5. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases R34

“Expanded Testing, Linkage, and Treatment for HIV Prevention among MSM in China”

This planning grant is to support clinical trial feasibility and design work for the use of multi-component expanded testing, linkage, risk reduction and antiretroviral therapy interventions to reduce transmission of HIV among MSM in multiple Chinese cities.

David Rich, ScD, MPH

1. National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences R01

 “Potential pathophysiologic mechanisms linking air pollution exposure in pregnant women to reduced birth weight”

This prospective pregnancy cohort study of 660 women is being conducted in Beijing, China, and is examining whether air pollution exposure during pregnancy impacts biomarkers of systemic inflammation and oxidative stress in maternal blood and urine, the placenta, and cord blood; placental development, vascularization, and related imprinted genes; and metabolic deficiency. Air pollution exposure is being estimated using both internal dose markers measured in maternal blood and external dose markers estimated using land use regression based spatial-temporal air pollution models. Further, using novel statistical methods, it is exploring whether these mechanisms mediate the association between air pollution and birth weight.

Collaborating Institutes: Duke University; Beijing Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital, Beijing China; Chinese Research Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Beijing, China; Duke-Kunshan University, Shanghai, China

2. New York State Energy Research & Development Authority

“Long Term Monitoring of Particle Size Distributions in Rochester, New York”

This study is measuring counts of particles of different size fractions in Rochester, New York. Using these data, we will describe their spatial patterns and exposures estimates as a function of location and time for time for each pollutant or source type for the years 2017- 2023. We will use these data to assess ultrafine particle count concentrations and size distributions and relate them to the shutdown of the Dunkirk, Huntley, and Somerset generating stations, and assess the impact of local versus transported sources on particle numbers and particle sizes in Rochester, New York.

3. New York State Energy Research & Development Authority

Impact of environmental policies and changes in air pollution levels, particle composition, and cause specific hospital admission rates

This accountability study used statewide hospital admissions data and ambiently measured pollutant concentrations measured across New York State. It assessed if there have been changes to air pollution concentrations and composition across New York State over the past 10+ years, and whether there have been changes in the hospitalization rates for cardiovascular, respiratory, and neurologic diseases among New York State residents.

Collaborating Institute: University at Albany, State University of New York

4. Health Effects Institute

 “The Multicenter Ozone Study in Elderly Subjects (MOSES) 2: Impacts of personal and ambient concentrations of ozone and other pollutants on cardiovascular and pulmonary function

This study utilized a completed multicenter controlled exposure study examining the acute cardiovascular effects of low level ozone exposures (70ppb and 120ppb versus clean air) in a panel of older exercising subjects, and evaluated whether ambient air pollutant concentrations impacted biomarker levels and whether they modified subjects’ biomarker responses to the controlled ozone exposures.

Collaborating Institutes: University of California, San Francisco; University of North Carolina; Harvard University

5. New York State Energy Research and Development Authority

“Have changes in air pollution levels and composition reduced the risks of myocardial infarction and fetal growth restriction in Rochester, New York? - An accountability study”

This study used existing datasets of myocardial infarction patients treated at the University of Rochester Medical Center Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory and births to women residing in Monroe County, New York at the time of birth. We then examined whether air quality policies enacted in New York State, nationally in the US, or regionally impacted the rate of myocardial infarction or fetal growth restriction among Monroe County, NY residents.

Chris Seplaki, PhD

1. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Community Partnership for Breastfeeding Promotion and Support” (Co-Investigator)

To increase adoption of evidence-based infant feeding, health, and safety interventions across hospitals, prenatal and pediatric providers, and WIC serving low income mothers to:  a) improve breastfeeding rates, delay introduction of complementary food (CF), and, secondarily increase adherence to a secondhand smoke (SHS) and safety sleep guidelines; and b) test if a modified BF Peer counseling model to enhance continuity further improves these outcomes.

2. University of Rochester Strategic Plan Pilot Grant in Aging Research

“The development of simulation-based approaches for the study of kinship connectedness and aging in context among community dwelling elders.”

This competitive internal pilot funding award will support the development of simulation-based demographic and complex systems modeling approaches for the study of kinship and aging.

Todd A. Jusko, PhD

  1. Human Immunotoxicity of Developmental PCB Exposure

This project examines adaptive immune function and infection in 400 adolescents participating in a birth cohort in eastern Slovakia. Our first aim will determine IgG- and IgA-specific anti-BCG and -MMR levels at 45 months, and 7 and 16 years of age. Our second aim examines PCB exposure in relation to functionality of distinct B cell and T cell subsets. In the third aim, we will use PCR-based methods to measure the frequency of 22 common respiratory pathogens over a 1- year period of follow-up, including asymptomatic and symptomatic collections.

Collaborating Institutions: University of Montreal, Slovak Medical University

  1. Perinatal PFAS Exposure and Infant Respiratory Infection

Results from a limited number of studies in murine models suggest that PFASs may be a developmental immunotoxicant. However, human studies are extremely limited and generally do not reliably assess the potential impact of PFASs on respiratory infection. This study, nested within a cohort of 250 normal and low birthweight infants, examines several markers of perinatal PFAS exposure in relation to incident respiratory infection, as measured by TaqMan real-time PCR arrays.

Collaborating Institutions: Wadsworth Center, University of Montreal

  1. Early Life Metal Mixture Exposure and Response to Vaccination

Studies conducted by our research team suggest that, in addition to causing adverse neurobehavioral outcomes, higher pediatric blood lead concentrations are associated with lower levels of antibodies specific to common childhood vaccines. This work explores early life metal mixtures, included lead, and antibody response among approximately 600 mother-child pairs participating in the PROGRESS study in Mexico City.

Collaborating Institutions: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, National Institute of Public Health, Mexico, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ATSDR)

Edwin van Wijngaarden, PhD

1. National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences R01

Factors Modifying the Toxicity of Methylmercury in a Fish-eating Population

Prenatal Exposure to Methylmercury and Child Development: Billions of people depend daily on the nutritional properties of fish as their major protein source and a primary source of nutrients. Fish also contain methylmercury (MeHg), a known neurotoxicant in adequate dosage. Research on whether there are adverse or beneficial effects of consuming ocean fish with natural background levels of MeHg contamination has not yet clarified whether there is a fetal developmental risk. For nearly three decades the Seychelles Child Development Study (SCDS) has investigated the impact of prenatal MeHg exposure from fish consumption during pregnancy on child development in the Republic of Seychelles. The SCDS is a longitudinal epidemiologic study that now comprises three different cohorts of mother-child pairs recruited during or shortly after birth. The first cohort was recruited about 25 years ago, the second cohort recruited in 2001, and recruitment of the third cohort was completed in 2011. Findings to date suggest that the association between prenatal MeHg exposure and developmental outcomes is more complex than initially thought with modifying roles of both nutritional and genetic factors.

Collaborating institutions: Ministry of Health, Republic of Seychelles; Ulster University, Northern Ireland; Lund University, Sweden

2. National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences R03

Postnatal Methylmercury Effects on Neurodevelopment

Methylmercury (MeHg) exposure from fish consumption during childhood may adversely affect developmental outcomes. The brain is not fully developed until halfway through the third decade of life and is therefore potentially susceptible to MeHg exposure well beyond the fetal period. It is currently not known if it is safe for children to eat fish. While epidemiological evidence supports the hypothesis that postnatal MeHg exposure is adversely associated with children's development, studies have not been specifically designed to study postnatal MeHg exposure. Nearly all studies have been cross-sectional evaluations in which MeHg exposure was measured only at the time of cognitive testing (convenience samples). No studies have employed the more definitive and powerful approach of longitudinal assessment of postnatal MeHg exposure in relation to cognitive outcomes throughout childhood and adolescence. We are in a position to study this issue longitudinally in the Republic of Seychelles where dietary MeHg exposure is among the highest in the world.

Collaborating institution: Ministry of Health, Republic of Seychelles