University at Buffalo Awarded RENEW Institute Grants for Three Studies Related to Energy and Environment

Published September 14, 2017

“These RENEW projects address exciting problems in RENEW focus areas of Sustainable Urban Environments; Environmental Exposures, Genomes and Health; and Next-Generation Materials and Technologies by interdisciplinary teams of University at Buffalo faculty working across decanal units.”
Amit Goyal, PhD, Director, RENEW
Research and Education in Energy, Environment and Water

Three research projects at University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions have been selected to receive funding from the RENEW Institute, an interdisciplinary institute dedicated to solving complex environmental problems. “These RENEW projects address exciting problems in RENEW focus areas of Sustainable Urban Environments; Environmental Exposures, Genomes and Health; and Next-Generation Materials and Technologies by interdisciplinary teams of University at Buffalo faculty working across decanal units,” said Dr. Amit Goyal, director of RENEW, which stands for Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water.

The research projects will share $102,696 in funding, which is funding designed to bring together interdisciplinary teams of investigators to tackle complex issues. The funding, which comes in response to the institute’s strategic investment initiative, will support the following efforts: “Developing thermal extreme indicators for vulnerability assessment & climate adaption”; “Atomic-metal-rich carbon electrocatalysts for sustainable energy via CO2 reduction”; “Traffic air pollution, genetic variation and autism spectrum disorder.”

UB School of Public Health and Health Professions’ Dr. Lina Mu, associate professor from the department of epidemiology and environmental health, is the principal investigator for the “Traffic air pollution, genetic variation and autism spectrum disorder” study. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been increasing in the last few decades. In 2010, 1 out of 68 children in the United States was diagnosed with ASD. Improved diagnosis may partially explain the recent increase, while the complete understanding of ASD development and the reason for the rapid growing prevalence remains unclear.

Air pollution has been associated with various health effects including child development. In urban areas, traffic-related air pollutants (TRP) are the most important contributor to local air pollution and the principal source of intra-urban variation in air pollution concentrations. Many TRPs were found to affect brain function and activity in toxicological studies. TRPs may induce inflammation and oxidative stress, which can result in damage to endothelial cells in the brain and compromise the blood-brain barrier and activate brain microglia.

The Peace Bridge is the highest-volume border crossing in Western New York and Canada. The average number of daily vehicle crossings at the Peace Bridge is 17,920 and approximately 20 percent of these vehicles are heavy-duty trucks. Heavy TRPs around the Peace Bridge has been a major environmental concern from nearby communities in both U.S. and Canada for decades. Heavy traffic emissions near the Peace Bridge and relative low-traffic around Buffalo’s suburbs form large variations in TRP exposure levels, which offers a special opportunity to study the impact of traffic pollution exposure on ASD.

This study aims to conduct a case-control study in Erie County. Researchers will use traffic air pollutant data and participants’ locations to estimate individual TRP exposure from pregnancy to diagnosis. The study aims to examine the relationship between TRP exposure in critical time periods and ASD development, and explore the potential interaction between genetic variation and TRP exposure in ASD development.

In addition to Dr. Mu, additional UB School of Public Health and Health Professions’ faculty are involved in the three RENEW studies listed above including Dr. Zachary Schlader, assistant professor in the department of exercise and nutrition sciences; Dr. Matthew Bonner, associate professor in the department of epidemiology and environmental health; Dr. Lili Tian, professor in the department of biostatistics.