Researchers at Medical College of Wisconsin and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin to study environmental health in the Alto Mayo rainforest of northern Peru

A research team at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin received a two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), to identify environmental health needs and opportunities in the remote, heavily deforested Alto Mayo rainforest on the eastern edge of the Andes Mountains in northern Peru.

Paula North, MD, PhD, professor of pathology and chief of pediatric pathology at MCW, is the principal investigator for the grant while Ronald Hines, PhD, professor of pediatrics at MCW serves as a co-investigator. Dr. North also is medical director of the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, director of the Children’s Hospital Research Institute Histology and Imaging Cores and Pediatric Biobank and Tissue Analytical Core. She also serves as Deputy Director of the joint UW Milwaukee, Children’s Hospital Research Institute, NIEHS-sponsored Children’s Environmental Health Sciences Core Center.

Previous research by the team, also supported by the National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center, NIEHS, and NIOSH, has shown multiple environmental health risks in the Alto Mayo rainforest, including alarmingly high rates of infant and maternal mortality. These risks are found in other areas of Peru and around the world, where emerging agricultural and population centers are encroaching on remote traditional villages.

This grant will support new pilot studies focusing on indoor/outdoor air quality, water/soil quality, and the quality and safety of traditional medicinal plant preparations in the Alto Mayo rainforest. The goal is to establish an innovative, world-class Global Environmental and Occupational Health Hub (GEOHealth Hub), to help Peruvian health authorities develop targeted, effective public health policies and educational strategies to reduce environmental health risks and specifically to reduce infant and maternal mortality. These strategies could be applicable to other regions facing similar environmental hazards.

Partnering with MCW, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee-based Children’s Environmental Health Science Core Center are the Peruvian Institute Nacional de Salud, the Yantalo Peru Foundation and the Oregon State University Superfund Research Program. Together, these institutions operate a sophisticated clinical and scientific facility they established in Yantalo, Peru, in the heart of the Alto Mayo region.

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