Recent Doctoral Graduate and CGHE Alumna, Gauri Desai, wins Saxon Graham Dissertation Award

photo of dr. desai.

By Nicole Little

Published May 3, 2020

Dr. Gauri Desai, a recent doctoral graduate in epidemiology, was recognized at the 2020 SPHHP Student Awards as the recipient of the Saxon Graham Dissertation Award. She received the award for her dissertation titled “Low-Level Arsenic Exposure, B-Vitamins, and Neurodevelopment among Uruguayan Schoolchildren.”

Policy brief cover page.

The Saxon Graham award is given to a graduating doctoral student from the School of Public Health and Health Professions for excellence in epidemiology and the prevention of disease. Established in 1997, this award honors the excellent leadership provided by the late Saxon Graham, PhD. Graham was a professor in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine (now named Epidemiology and Environmental Health) and served as chair of the department from 1981 to 1991.

Dr. Desai’s dissertation research focuses on the associations between low-level arsenic exposure and child development, and the potential role B-vitamins play in this relationship. The study was located in Montevideo, Uruguay - a city which has historically faced challenges with toxic metal exposures including lead and arsenic. Her research showed that although low-level arsenic exposure was not associated with general cognition or academic achievement, it exerted neurotoxic effects on children’s executive functions. She also found that intake of B-vitamins modestly lowered the toxicity of arsenic when exposure occurred at low levels.

Her findings have contributed notably to the body of research under CGHE’s Early Life Exposome and Inclusive Environments Big Ideas teams. Throughout her studies, she has worked alongside CGHE leadership, including Dr. Kasia Kordas, co-director and associate professor of epidemiology, Dr. Korydon Smith, co-lead and professor and chair of architecture, and Dr. Pavani Ram, co-lead and research professor of epidemiology and environmental health. Some of Dr. Desai’s previous work includes helping to build a framework for sanitation research and practice in low-and-middle-income countries for people with disabilities and a project to understand the underlying mechanisms for the links between air pollution and adverse birth outcomes.

Dr. Desai will join UB in the Fall of 2020 as a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Undergraduate Public Health Program at the School of Public Health and Health Professions.

Congratulations, Dr. Desai!


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