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Focusing on global health

December 15, 2009
By Carol Borchert

Approaching its first anniversary, the Center for Environmental Medicine, based in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, with missions in research, teaching, and global outreach, continues to build its programs and attract international interest for partnerships.

“The Center focuses on research that seeks to understand the complexity of certain systems and the impact they have on human and animal health,” said William Hanneman, director of the Center for Environmental Medicine and an associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences.

“Networks and complex systems have been the subject of a great deal of recent research in multiple disciplines including business, physics, and engineering.

Toxicology and infectious disease

“We study environmental toxicology and infectious disease at the network or systems level. Contamination of global food and water supplies with pesticides, heavy metals, pharmaceutical agents, agriculture waste, and pathogenic bacteria are all examples of these complex systems.”

The Center was formally announced during Colorado Governor Bill Ritter’s trade mission to Asia in November 2008, when the University signed rare research and education partnership agreements with Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences, Japan’s equivalent of the National Institutes of Health, and Gifu University’s School of Medicine.

It was through Dr. Hanneman’s long-term research and connections in Japan that major steps were taken toward a successful signing of memoranda of understanding with NIRS and Gifu.

While global in mission, the Center began work immediately looking at environmental health issues related to commerce in Asia. The Center’s partnership with Japan allows it access to products manufactured there and in other countries with high exports. For example, along with the United States, Japan is one of China’s largest importers of goods, although many products from both countries are exported globally.

Anticipated projects in Asia

The Center anticipates early projects in Asia to include:

  • research and educational efforts into issues such as melamine in food products
  • heavy metal levels in water sources for agricultural products that are distributed globally including soybeans
  • the quality and purity of vitamin C

About 90 percent of the world’s vitamin C is produced in China. Neither China nor Japan has the equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Center officials expect to play an international role in education and team building between countries.

Engaging countries as consumers and producers of goods

“This partnership is unique in that the memoranda of understanding very specifically lay out cooperative activities that Japan and CSU have agreed upon to enhance research, education and public health in both countries,” said Dr. Hanneman.

“We are engaging countries as consumers and producers of goods. We’re taking a hard look at the products we exchange and the environments in which they were created, and, which they create. We also are establishing partnerships with agricultural producers to develop and standardize testing technology to increase efficiency and safety of food distribution and quality.”

Educational opportunities

In addition to global research and outreach, the Center provides national and international educational opportunities, particularly through its professional master’s program. By educating international students who then return to their home countries with an understanding of complex systems, Dr. Hanneman said partnerships between Colorado State University and institutions like NIRS can grow even stronger.

“Collaborative research projects, visiting scientist programs, and student exchanges will begin to build a bridge between cultures and enable us to better address the global problems that affect us all,” Dr. Hanneman said. “As the world grows smaller, problems are no longer isolated to certain geographical areas. Industrial pollutants, agricultural chemicals, lack of quality controls in processing and so many other systems know no borders – another country’s challenges rapidly become our challenges. It’s up to us to work together to find solutions.”

Additional faculty members affiliated with the Center for Environmental Medicine include Marie Legare, Ron TjalkensRichard Slayden, and Greg Dooley. Makot Matsuura is on the staff as special assistant to the director for Business and Student Relations.


Originally published in the Fall 2009 College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Insight newsletter.