Center's scholars receive more than $1 million in recent grants

October 3, 2013


Dr. Sonya Jones

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a grant of $394,974 to Dr. Sarah Rothenberg of the Arnold School of Public Health to support the development of protective guidelines on prenatal methylmercury exposure.

Rothenberg's award is among more than $1 million in recent grants to Arnold School of Public Health researchers who submitted grant proposals through the Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities.

Dr. Sonya Jones, recently appointed director of the Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities, said the grants represent the growing influence of the Center and the work of its affiliated scholars.

"Our affiliates are conducting cutting edge research on the relationship between our physical, media, and community environments and nutrition, positioning us one of the leading groups in the country for understanding the contexts in which all people can consume a healthy diet," she said.

"The Center is here to build USC's capacity to conduct excellent nutrition research, facilitate collaboration, and build our national, state, and local leadership in nutrition.  One of the ways that we do this is by providing assistance to faculty in the preparation preparing, reviewing and submission of competitive proposals to funding agencies," said Jones of the Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior.

One of those is Rothenberg's study, which has interesting historical and scientific significance.  

Mercury is a global pollutant and potent neurotoxin, and methylmercury is one of the most toxic forms of mercury because of its ability to cross the blood brain and placental barriers. Fish consumption is considered the primary exposure to methylmercury. 

In Japan and Iraq, human health has been seriously affected by methylmercury exposure and has been the cause of irreversible neural damage in developing fetuses. In the town of Wanshan, Guizhou province, southwestern China, a legacy of mercury contamination from 600 years of mercury mining has severely polluted the air, soil and water. In this region, rice ingestion is considered the primary method of methylmercury exposure, not fish.

For her study, Rothenberg will recruit a mother-offspring cohort in Wanshan, China, to investigate offspring neurodevelopment among a population where rice is a staple food and mercury contamination is elevated. Previous studies concerning maternal methylmercury exposure and offspring health included populations where fish ingestion was the primary exposure pathway.

Rothenberg's study seeks to establish for the first time whether a relationship exists between prenatal methylmercury exposure and offspring neurodevelopment in a population where rice is the primary source of methylmercury exposure to mothers.

Because rice is a staple food for more than half the world's population, the study is critical to understanding the potential health risks of methylmercury exposure via rice to mothers and their babies.

The awards come as the Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary and a change in leadership. Dr. Angela Liese, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, has served as director since 2008. Liese recently received an ASPIRE-II grant, which is intended to establish USC as a national thought-leader in policy relevant research on childhood food security and food access.  

The aims of the project are to: 1) convene two national expert workshops on childhood food security at USC, with the goal of developing a childhood food security system map for the United States; 2) analyze and publish existing data from five USC-led projects on food security and food access, with the goal of providing pilot data for multiple, integrated grant applications; and 3) work as a team toward submitting a grant application in food access and food security.

The other funded studies include:

Study Title, Amount: "Addressing Acquiesence: Reducing Survey Error to Promote Latino Health," $392,100
Principal Investigator: Dr. Rachel Davis, Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior
Agency: National Institutes of Health
Purpose: This study aims to improve data validity for unobserved, health-related psychosocial variables in telephone-administered surveys with ethnically diverse Latino respondents through increased awareness and standardization of methods to address acquiescence. The specific goals are to: (1) identify correlates of acquiescence; and (2) screen for the most promising methods of reducing acquiescence during data collection and adjusting for acquiescence after data collection is complete.

Study Title, Amount:  "Evaluating geographical accessibility of health services and facilities among women with and without gestational diabetes," $19,970
Principal Investigator: Dr. Jihong Liu, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Agency:  USC Office of the Provost, Social Science Program
Purpose:  The aim of this project is to assess the feasibility, completeness and accuracy of measuring provider accessibility using GIS techniques among postpartum women with and without a recent history of gestational diabetes.

Study Title, Amount:  "Developing and Pilot Testing Agent-Mediated Social Networks for Modeling Healthy Behaviors," $29,625
Principal Investigator: Dr. Brie Turner-McGrievy, Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior 
Agency: S.C. Clinical and Translational Research Institute's (SCTR) Pilot Project Program 
Purpose: This innovative research will explore how social networks develop, support and enhance healthy behaviors using collective data inputs.

Study Title, Amount:  "Dietary Contributions to Inflammation in Youth with Type I Diabetes: Which dietary guideline is best?," $10,000
Principal Investigator: Dr. Angela Liese, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Agency: USC School of Medicine, Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE)
Purpose:  This study seeks to advance the understanding of nutritional determinants of systemic inflammation in youth with diabetes by analyzing data of the SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study and focusing specifically on four existing indexes of dietary quality.

Study Title, Amount: "Using a Novel Experimental Approach with Eye Tracking to Examine How Different Front-of-Package Labels Influence Parents' Selection of Foods and Beverages for Their Children," $14,797
Principal Investigator: Dr. Christine Blake, Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior 
Agency: USC Office of Vice President of Research
Purpose: The study will help the research team develop, test and refine an experimental protocol for the study of different front-of-package nutrition rating systems to promote selection of healthier vs. less healthy foods.

Proposal Title, Amount: "Positioning USC for National Prominence in Food Security and Food Access Research, $99,969
Principal Investigator: Dr. Angela Liese, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Agency: USC Office of Vice President for Research
Purpose: This grant seeks to establish USC as a national thought-leader in policy-relevant research on childhood food security and food access.

Proposal Title, Amount: "Snacking in Young Children: Parental Definitions, Goals, and Feeding Practices," $62,581
Principal Investigator: Dr. Christine Blake, Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior
Agency: Temple University
Purpose: Drawing on general parenting and child feeding research, the proposed investigation on parents' child snack schemas will elucidate a wide range of parents' feeding practices around child snacking and will rigorously develop and evaluate a new measure of its central dimensions.

Study Title, Amount: "Relation between fasting plasma glucose, insulin and periodontal microorganisms," $3,000
Principal Investigator: Dr. Anwar Merchant, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics 
Agency: American Dental Association (ADA)
Purpose: This study will evaluate the relationship between antibodies against periodontal microorganisms and diabetes related markers.

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