Faculty Name:
Robert Welsh


Faculty College:


Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2021 begins on May 26 and ends on August 5. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2021 application.**

Over the past decade there has been an increasing focus on the adverse neurological and cognitive effects of air pollution. Increasing evidence implicates chronic exposure to high levels of particulate matter (e.g. PM2.5, particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometer in diameter) and other air pollution in cognitive decline. Additionally, research suggests that air pollution leads to changes in brain structure. Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s evidence neuropathological similarities to animal models of pollutant exposure, as well as to autopsy studies of children living in high-pollution areas. Air pollution exposure is associated with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular functioning and concomitant adverse effects on cognition, including progression to dementia. Prospective studies have identified inverse associations between amount of exposure over a given number of years with current cognitive functioning or decline in functioning. Cross-sectional studies also indicate that individuals, and especially older individuals, exposed to poor quality air demonstrate worse performance on objective cognitive measures relative to individuals with less exposure. Understanding how air pollution affects various groups, including ethnic minorities is paramount. In the coming decades, the proportion of elderly that are Hispanic in the U.S. will double or even triple. These facts point to the pressing need to better understand the interaction of air pollution, socioeconomic factors, health, and lifestyle on cognition and brain changes in an older Hispanic population. This project will collect state-of-the-art neuroimaging data, air quality data, and cognitive testing from a cohort of elder Hispanics.

This project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (PIs: Sara Grineski and Tim Collins). In addition to being part of SPUR, it is also part of the HAPPIEST programTHIS MEANS THAT IT IS OPEN ONLY TO UNIVERSITY OF UTAH APPLICANTS FROM RACIAL/ETHNIC MINORITY BACKGROUNDS. Two students will be selected to work on this project together.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

Students will be involved in all aspects of this project. This project is a human subjects based project. This means students will be working to recruit participants into the study, shepherd the participants through the protocol, be involved with data collection, data quality checks, and data analysis. The project’s protocol involves deploying low-cost air quality monitoring devices at participants’ homes, collection of neuroimaging data, collection of cognitive testing, and for some participants collection of blood (though the collection is done by trained professionals at the MRI center). This is a state-of-the-art project to collect pilot data for a future NIH grant submission. Due to the nature of this project, the need to access the resources at the Imaging and Neuroscience Center (INC), students will need to be local to the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, or within a commute distance. The nature of the study also includes interacting with participants in their preferred language, which at times will be Spanish. Preference will be given to fluent and/or native Spanish speaking applicants. Remote Contingency Plan Currently, under the Orange Alert status for research, undergraduate and graduate students are permitted to work within the human subjects domain. Students will be provided with safety protocols regarding measures to minimize exposure to coronavirus. Students will be provided with necessary PPE. If there is a pause in data collection due to a University of Utah mandated pass in research, students will have the opportunity to work with pre-existing datasets to hone their skills with neuroimaging data processing.

Student Benefits:

Students will be learning aspects of state-of-the-art human subjects research. Students will learn how to interact with participants. They will learn facets of neuroimaging data collection (MRI) and cognitive testing administration. Data collection is done with a Siemens 3T Prisma MRI at the INC. Data collected is high-resolution anatomic imaging and resting-state fMRI to calculate brain networks. Cognitive testing is done using the NIH Toolbox (deployed on an iPad). Students will learn how to process air quality data. Neuroimaging data processing will take place using state-of-the-art processing pipelines in a Linux and Mac environment. Students will learn how to processing anatomic images, and how to calculate brain networks. Students will learn how to score cognitive testing. Additionally, students will be exposed to statistical analysis. These opportunities lay the groundwork for the student to advance further and the gain the skills and knowledge if they decide to enter into a future area of study involving neuroscience, behavioral health science, neurology, biomedical engineering, psychology, or a related field.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 26, 2021, and ends August 5, 2021

Minimum Requirements:

In addition to being part of SPUR, this project is also part of the HAPPIEST program. THIS MEANS THAT IT IS OPEN ONLY TO UNIVERSITY OF UTAH APPLICANTS FROM RACIAL/ETHNIC MINORITY BACKGROUNDS. Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2021 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2021 and not graduating before December 2021; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but might not be able to be compensated. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at an American institution of higher education and verify with your institution’s international center that your visa allows you to participate in this program, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 26-August 5, 2021). 4) at least 18 years old by May 24, 2021 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing). Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.