Global warming, war, and poverty are complex issues with far-reaching effects. Communicating health risks about these issues, while separating fact from fiction, has grown more challenging; cultural differences, political motivations, and new media platforms complicate this further. The public is uncertain who and what to believe. How do we share new genetic research? How do we reveal the hidden dangers of pollutants in our food, homes, and neighborhoods? How do we ethically persuade people to heed warnings of imminent threats, such as epidemics and extreme weather events?
The annual Global Innovation Challenge is a one-week workshop open to undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students from all majors: anthropology to architecture, biology to business, English to engineering, political science to public health. Participants engage in team-building and creative problem-solving activities, while working with international experts and UB faculty to find, develop, and test novel solutions.
Participation in the event includes a full-week of breakfast and lunch, team-building activities, interaction with expert global stakeholders, and a chance to win funding to support further development of your ideas. You will be required to attend the entirety of the workshop, Monday-Thursday, May 20-23 from 8am-5pm and Friday, May 24 from 8am-1pm.
You may participate in the Global Innovation Challenge for a fee or for 1 or 3 hours of course credit. Fees are $100 for UB students and $200 for students from other Universities. The three-credit option allows undergraduates to earn UB Curriculum and SUNY general education credits. Students registered for the three-credit option must meet with the professor prior to the start of the Global Innovation Challenge and must complete the distance-education requirements for the course.
Formal registration will begin in February.
In 1953, Francis Crick and James Watson, building on the work of Rosalind Franklin, described the double helical structure of a DNA molecule, a finding that gave rise to modern molecular biology and deeply influenced art and culture. In 1978, lead, a substance known to have adverse health effects since the second century BCE, was banned in the United States as an additive to household paint. In 2006, Al Gore, hoping to alert the public to the planetary emergency of global warming, released An Inconvenient Truth, a $50 million-grossing book and documentary. These issues – genetics, chemical exposure, and climate change – affect human health in important ways, but they are complex to understand and communicate.
Since the monumental discovery of the double helix, public and private institutions have sought to advance and capitalize on our growing understanding of genomics. Now, an individual can obtain information about their ancestry, health, and traits by simply spitting in a tube and mailing it away. Yet, many health care providers lack resources to provide genetic-based health services and education to their patients, as approximately 50% of the public reports little or no understanding of the term “human genome.”
In parallel, there are 180,000 chemicals produced or imported into the U.S. each year. Only a handful of those have been studied, but there is increasing evidence that chemicals in daily-use products such as baby bottles, baby pajamas, and car seats may be harmful to children’s growth and development. The companies making, marketing, and selling products have much at stake, as does the public. Many individuals remain unsure: what information and whom do I trust?
In addition, from the 1820’s to the present, despite scientific evidence, the world continues to debate the impacts of climate change without taking action. In 2015, for the first time, all members of the United Nations convened at the Framework Convention on Climate Change to strengthen the global response. Yet, the influence of politics and an emphasis on economic factors have delayed progress, especially in the United States.
Advances in research around genomics, chemical exposures, and global climate change have far-reaching effects on the health and wellbeing of the planet and its people. Communicating this information in an effective and meaningful manner, however, remains a challenge. Cultural differences, political motivations, and new media platforms all contribute to the complexity surrounding already complex issues affecting human health. The question remains: how can important research findings be communicated to people of different ages, different cultures, and different levels of education in order for them to make decisions and take action?
Develop strategies to communicate complex health information to people across ages, cultures, and geographies
Several aspects of environmental epidemiology keep Dr. Kasia Kordas fascinated and wanting to know more. For example, environmental exposures do not occur in isolation - most often, humans are exposed to multiple chemicals so over time. Her research, having evolved from studying lead to studying multiple metals, focuses on exposures even more broadly, for example understanding the effects of the totality of such exposures on children's health. Because environmental exposures occur in a broader context, whether it be family, school or community, Dr. Kordas studies how intersection and interaction with environmental exposures affects child development. Additionally, environmental exposures interact with underlying biological vulnerabilities, such as genetic risks or nutritional deficiencies. By understanding these interactions, particularly with nutritional factors, researchers can use them to prevent or improve the effects of environmental exposures on children's health.
Dr. Kordas works predominantly in international settings, with her primary research site in Montevideo, Uruguay. Together with colleagues and excellent research team from the Catholic University of Uruguay and the University of the Republic of Uruguay, she has been developing a research program in pediatric environmental epidemiology since 2006. Currently, they are conducting a longitudinal study on the cognitive and behavioral effects of low-level exposure to multiple metals in school children.
In addition to her research, Dr. Kordas is Co-Director of UB's Community of Excellence in Global Health Equity.
Associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), Jennifer Surtees' is interested in the general problem of maintaining genome stability. The genome is often referred to as the “instruction manual” for an organism. And therefore needs to be stably inherited in each of our cells to maintain a healthy, functional organism. Surtees' lab focuses on two distinct aspects of genome stability. 1) The roles and regulation of mismatch (MMR) proteins in multiple pathways that lead to DNA repair, or genome stability, and how this regulation is perverted to promote trinucleotide repeat expansions that cause neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease. 2) The manner in which altered pools of dNTPS, the building blocks of DNA, impacts genome integrity - how misregulated dNTP levels affect cellular fitness and genome stability. By identifying pathways that make cells more sensitive or more resistant to DNA damaging agents when dNTP pools are altered, as they are in cancer cells, reserachers could enhance chemotherapy and/or provide insight into the acquisition of chemoresistance. Surtees' lab uses a combination of genetic, biochemical, bioinformatic and biophysical approaches to elucidate these pathways, using the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a model system.
In addition to the research described above, Dr. Surtees is co-founder and Co-director of UB’s Community of Excellence: Genome, Environment and Microbiome (GEM) (www.buffalo.edu/gem). GEM’s bipartite mission is to: 1) promote genome and microbiome scientific studies at UB and 2) promote genomic literacy at UB and in Western New York, particularly in the city of Buffalo (K-12 and adult populations), in both cases communicating complex information to diverse audiences. Through broad-based, multi-disciplinary efforts that engage the entire UB community, GEM has initiated and facilitated interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary (e.g. art and science, dance and science, science, history, public health, law and communications) research teams, established collaborations to develop innovative education programs and pedagogical techniques, developed curriculum at all levels to promote genomic literacy and encouraged development of performance art that incorporates genome and/or microbiome themes.
Dr. Janet Yang's research centers on the communication of risk information related to science, health, and environmental issues. She is particularly interested in how cognitive and affective evaluations of risk influence individuals’ decision making. Much of her research focuses on social cognitive variables that influence information seeking and processing, health decision making, and public perception of environmental and health risks.
Read Dr. Yang's recent journal article about how fearful conservatives and angry liberals process political info differently
The Oxford Dictionary of the English Language chose “post-truth” as its word of the year for 2016. In a post-truth, post-fact world, views that appeal to emotions and personal beliefs are more influential than objective evidence-based facts.
What does this mean for public trust in the evidence produced by science, medicine, and public health?
– Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, 2006-2017