Recently the University of Texas School of Public Health announced that Dr. Kristina Whitworth, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the San Antonio Regional Campus, and part of the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SCOEH), had been awarded the PRIME grant for her research “Feasibility of Assessing Biomarkers of Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Fetal Growth Among Pregnant Women Attending a UTHealth Prenatal Clinic.” The PRIME grant is awarded to new investigators with the goal of assisting in the acquisition of the preliminary
data needed to apply for larger study grants.
In a post-announcement interview with BioNews Texas science correspondent Kara Elam, Dr. Whitworth took the time to answer questions about the funding award and its impact on her ability to pursue her research.
KE: What does this award mean for you and your research efforts?
Witworth: The Prime award is an internal award funded through the University and the intent is to fund new investigators and aid those new investigators in obtaining preliminary data or pilot data to help them prepare applications for primarily NIH funding or other large grants, which at the present grant funding climate you really have to have as an investigator preliminary data in order to apply. The PRIME funding award is a way to help individuals who are new to the whole funding game get the necessary preliminary data.
By getting the funding award I will be able to investigate the feasibility of conducting a large environmental epidemiologic study in order to explore the association between pregnant women’s exposure to VOCs and perinatal health, and I’m particularly interested in fetal growth. The end goal is to do an event association study and look at pregnant women’s exposure to these compounds commonly found in the environment and perinatal health with a focus on fetal health. But before I am able to apply for large funding and be competitive to get funding for that type of study I would need to show that I have the preliminary data showing that doing that type of study is feasible. So this initial award will allow me to do that and show the distribution of exposure among this particular population, which are women attending a specific prenatal clinic in the Medical Center. This particular prenatal clinic serves women who are on Medicaid, which is a good population to study for this particular question because these women are at risk for multiple things; they experience disparities in health, economic status, and environmental exposures.
Being able to study this particular question in this population is really interesting because we will be able to look at the intersection of all those risk factors, not only the environmental exposure but also how potential disparities may interact and put this particular population at greater risk.
KE: That is a great lead into my second question which is: What would you like to accomplish and how do you see your research positively impacting the public’s health?
Whitworth: On one hand, in epidemiologic studies, one study does not have a direct impact on public health- no single study does. But hopefully, epidemiologic studies build on each other, and findings from multiple studies can help shape policy and help shape prevention efforts.
I am actually pretty excited to be able to study these environmental exposures longitudinally and in this particular population, for it is really interesting to think about environmental exposures in the larger social context because exploring that intersection between environment, neighborhood affects, psycho-social structures, and other disparities, which can really be pretty important when studying perinatal health in populations that experience disparities in environmental exposure and economic status.
SWCOEH supports research, education and outreach in occupational and environmental health.
The threats to health and well-being posed by occupational and environmental factors are complex and require interdisciplinary and innovative approaches to improve the health of workers and communities. In addition to utilizing the best available research practices and interventions, solutions must also consider geographic, economic, behavioral, cultural and political dimensions. The SWCOEH addresses these threats by providing graduate-level education in environmental and occupational health, conducting research into the causes, prevention and control of disease and injury, engaging in research to practice activities, and providing continuing education and outreach to our stakeholders.