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University of Oklahoma, Peru University Partner on Health, Climate Research Projects

University of Oklahoma, Peru University Partner on Health, Climate Research Projects

OU vice president for research and partnerships Tomás Díaz de la Rubia visits the Universidad Nacional de San Agustín in Peru to sign an agreement to develop a $9 million joint research program

Researchers from the University of Oklahoma are working with the Universidad Nacional de San Agustín, one of Peru’s largest and oldest public research universities, on four collaborative projects to study climate change impacts and adaptation strategies for Latin America, as well as advanced public health monitoring and technologies to mitigate the disparate impact of diseases such as cancer and COVD-19 amongst the indigenous populations of Peru. 

OU vice president for research and partnerships Tomás Díaz de la Rubia says these projects align closely with OU’s aim to address regional, national and global challenges through excellence in research and creative activity, as described in the recently launched Lead On, University strategic plan.

“These projects will generate solutions to some of our most pressing global challenges and will support economic development and resilience in a rapidly changing world,” Díaz de la Rubia said. “As a flagship public institution keenly focused on societal impact through research and creative activity, OU is uniquely positioned to bring together disparate academic disciplines, from the core STEM fields to the humanities, social sciences and fine arts to foster creative, comprehensive solutions to global challenges.”

In the first phase of the just-launched partnership, UNSA is providing nearly $5 million in funding for four projects that pair OU and UNSA researchers to study these urgent global issues, building on a research collaboration with OU established in January 2020. OU’s National Institute for Risk and Resilience is the university’s coordinating organization for the collaboration.

Carol Silva, co-director of the NIRR, said three of the four projects support a “’ 'Medical Technologies for Improved Health Outcomes in Developing Nations’ initiative that will develop new nano- and artificial intelligence-based technologies as well as social understanding of these technologies to improve the health outcomes for those living in the Arequipa region and Latin America.”

Of the three projects focused on health outcomes, one will apply machine learning models to help radiologists treat COVID-19 patients. This research is led Javier Jo, a professor in the Gallogly College of Engineering, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“Assessing COVID-19 pulmonary (lung) infections are both laborious and time consuming, as the radiologist needs to recognize subtle changes in the radiological images for accurate descriptions, as well as detect, classify and count pulmonary lesions to assess severity,” Jo said. “The overarching goal of this application is to develop and test computer-aided detection tools that include novel medical image processing algorithms and machine learning models for assessing the severity of COVID-19 pneumonia using either chest X-ray or CT images from COVID-19 infected patients.”

Additionally, Jo said the success of the project will also help establish a foundation to develop new CAD tools of chest X-ray and CT images for earlier detecting for other lung diseases including lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

A second project, led by Roger Harrison in the Gallogly College of Engineering, School of Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering, will test photothermal cancer treatment.

“Photothermal therapy is a cancer treatment that induces cancer cell death by heat generated in tumor tissue exposed to near-infrared light,” said Harrison. “This project will help us develop a deep understanding of the fundamental physical and biological processes involved in photothermal cancer treatment and provide a holistic approach to manufacture nano-biomaterials that are effective agents for the selective killing of cancer cells by photothermal therapy and subsequent stimulation of the immune system that results in treating cancer metastasis.”

The final health-focused project will create a Center for Monitoring and Control of Public Health for the Arequipa region. This pilot study is led by OU NIRR co-directors Silva and Hank Jenkins-Smith, with Gallogly College of Engineering faculty David Ebert, Dean Hougen and Charles Nicholson.

“The ultimate objective is to create a center that will undertake integrated public health monitoring and analysis and provide decision-making advice to the local public health authorities in the Arequipa region of Peru,” said Silva.

The fourth funded project supports the universities’ collaborative “Science and Environment Sustainability” initiative for research that will make science-based recommendations to local and regional authorities to mitigate impacts and help society adapt to ongoing climate change.

Led by Ming Xue, the director of OU’s Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms and a professor in the School of Meteorology, College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, this project provides information about localized impacts of global climate change that can ultimately inform public policy decision making.

“We will produce regional climate model simulations to dynamically downscale global climate projections and climate change responses at local and regional scales for the Arequipa region,” Xue said. “The system will be able to simulate all forms of weather, including precipitation, temperature and humidity, much more accurately, as well as include land and hydrological states such as soil moisture and temperature, river stream, and flooding and drought conditions.”

“The simulation output can be used to drive many downstream impact models, such as ground water hydrology, river stream, land slide, air quality, crop production, energy consumption and generation, economics, social impact and sustainability and health-disease models,” he added.

Additional projects focused on greenhouse gas measurement and monitoring, the impacts of climate change on water availability in Peru, and social adaptation strategies to climate change will be launched in a future second phase of the collaboration.

This article was originally published by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Partnerships.

Article Published:  Wednesday, March 10, 2021