SPUR 2022: The impact of air pollution on cancer survivors

NOTE: 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 program. Applicants must be University of Utah students who identify in one or more of the following ways (defined by the National Institutes of Health): Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinxs, American Indians or Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders. Two students will be selected to work on this project together.

Background

Over the past several decades, advancements in the treatment of cancer have led to over 18 million cancer survivors in the United States. While these treatments have greatly extended the life of individuals with cancer, certain cancer therapies can cause heart and lung problems during cancer treatment and lead to chronic conditions that can last throughout a survivor’s life. Particulate matter air pollution (PM2.5) also causes heart and lung morbidity and mortality. Several studies have shown that higher community levels of PM2.5 increases the risk of cancer-related mortality. How PM2.5 air pollution affects the health of cancer survivors and leads to higher morbidity and mortality, however, is unknown. The goal of this research is to determine if exposure to PM2.5 increases the risk of heart and lung health events among cancer survivors, particularly those given treatment regimens with known toxicity.

Student Role

The summer student will join a research team of cancer health services researchers, epidemiologists, statisticians, clinicians, and air pollution experts to assist with two ongoing grants on air pollution and cancer survivorship. Key activities during the summer for a student includes:

  1. conducting a literature review on the topic of cancer, air pollution, morbidity, and mortality,
  2. assisting with data preparation and management, including building treatment exposure data and working administrative data records,
  3. contributing to obtaining covariate data for regression analyses (e.g., smoking status, meteorological information, COVID-19/influenza rate data, etc.),
  4. assisting with study design,
  5. assisting with running descriptive analyses investigating PM2.5 levels throughout Utah, and
  6. contributing to scientific reporting, including creation of tables for manuscripts and abstracts.

The student will also have the opportunity to participate in weekly research team meetings with other faculty, staff, and students.

Student Learning Outcomes & Benefits

At the conclusion of the HAPPIEST program, the student will have completed an in-depth literature review on air pollution and cancer survivorship, which will provide key information for future journal articles and grant submissions. The student will have gained a comprehensive understanding of cancer epidemiology, air pollution, morbidity, and mortality. The student will have gained experience with certain statistical analysis approaches and with the interpretation of results. Participation with this research will result in improvement in foundational skills for career development including writing and analytical skills. Moreover, the student will obtain experience working in a team-based research setting with several ongoing and complementary research studies.

Uploaded image

Anne Kirchhoff
Associate Professor

Pediatrics
School of Medicine

I am a health services researcher who focuses on studies to identify social and economic factors that affect the health status of cancer survivors. Since starting as a faculty member in 2011, my team has had over 35 trainees, ranging from high school students to physician fellows. My goal as a mentor is to provide unique and challenging opportunities for students and trainees to think critically and ask novel research questions, while at the same time learning to work in a team science environment. A key aspect of this is fostering multidisciplinary research experiences, bringing together clinicians and scientists, while providing students with hands-on research experiences. We do this through several avenues. First, students are paired with research staff or senior trainees to foster learning and support. Second, students working with my research team have opportunities to write abstracts, present at conferences, or assist with manuscript writing. Third, our team’s philosophy is that our projects are strongest if we all work together, regardless of experience or training level, which allows students to be involved with all aspect of the research process. For this summer project, I will meet with the student weekly and foster learning opportunities with my staff scientist who will oversee the day-to-day training experiences. Click here to visit the Kirchhoff team website.