Faculty grants awarded

Congratulations go to School of Public Health faculty members who have received new grant awards to support their research:

They are Jiebiao Wang, PhD, and Lu Tang, PhD, assistant professors of biostatistics; Robert W.S. Coulter, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of behavioral and community health sciences; Kar Hai Chu, PhD, and Patricia Documét, MD, DrPH, associate professors of behavioral and community health sciences; Peng Gao, PhD, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health; and Tina Ndoh, PhD, associate professor of environmental and occupational health.

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Wang’s nearly $2 million study, “Statistical Methods for Population-Level Cell-Type-Specific Analyses of Tissue Omics Data for Alzheimer’s Disease,” is being funded by an R01 award over five years by the National Institute on Aging.

Using data from NIA’s Accelerating Medicines Partnership for Alzheimer’s Disease, Wang and colleagues will develop and implement statistical methods to better understand cellular mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease, a major cause of dementia estimated to affect nearly 14 million people in the United States over the next 30 years.

Known as research project grants, R01 awards are considered a significant measure of an investigator’s achievement in their chosen field.

Additional investigators on the project include F. Yesim Demirci, MD, associate professor of human genetics; Chris McKennan, PhD, assistant professor of statistics, Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences; Xu Qin, PhD, assistant professor of research methodology, School of Education; and Wei Chen, PhD, professor of pediatrics, and Robert Sweet, MD, UPMC Professor of Psychiatric Neuroscience, School of Medicine.

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Tang has received his first grant as principal investigator, an R21 titled “Federated Learning Methods for Heterogeneous and Distributed Medicaid Data,” from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Co-investigators include Julie Donohue, PhD, professor and chair of health policy and management, and Chung-Chou (Joyce) Chang, PhD, professor of medicine and of biostatistics.

R21 grants fund early project development and exploration. Tang’s project aims to develop new machine learning approaches to better evaluate opioid use disorder data and capitalizes on university-Medicaid agency partnerships in the Medicaid Outcomes Distributed Research Network, which includes U.S. Medicaid enrollees in 11 states. The total project award is $418,087 through 2025.

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Coulter, Chu and Documét are co-investigators in a team project, “Examining Psychosocial Correlates of Loneliness and Perceived Isolation among Marginalized Youth,” supported by a University of Pittsburgh Momentum Funds scaling grant. Scaling grants of up to $400,000 for two years enable the multidisciplinary research necessary to support external funding applications to resources like the National Institutes of Health.

The project is being led by César Escobar-Viera, MD, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, School of Medicine, and includes faculty from the School of Education and the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. The team will partner with community organizations to determine factors underlying societal isolation among young people in underserved populations. Observations may inform behavioral interventions to reduce loneliness, isolation and associated mental health challenges.

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Gao and Ndoh received University priming grants, which are funded at $25,000 for one year to support significant and innovative scholarship by early-career faculty.

Gao’s project, “Investigating the Environmental Exposure Risks of Asthma,” will advance understanding of genetic and environmental interactions that may contribute to asthma. Ndoh’s study, “Distributional Equity Analysis of Residual Risk for National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants and Stakeholder Engagement,” will assess stakeholder influence on regulatory decision-making by the Environmental Protection Agency relevant to cancer risk from air emissions.