UB, Community Partners Receive $1.1 Million to Study Asthma, Lupus in Two Buffalo Neighborhoods

By Lois Baker

Release Date: November 19, 2001

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo researchers have received a five-year, $1.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to assess environmental pollutants and their relationship to the prevalence of autoimmune disease, particularly lupus, and asthma in two Buffalo neighborhoods.

The research, headed by John Vena, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine and director of the UB Environment and Society Institute, is part of a national program to encourage university-community partnerships and build capacity within communities to tackle their concerns.

The project builds on work currently underway in the targeted communities -- Buffalo's predominently African-American East Side and its largely Latino Lower West Side. It has two components: The Toxic Waste/Lupus Coalition Project and the West Side Environmental Health Project, targeting asthma.

Work will be carried out by research teams that include epidemiologists, environmental scientists, physicians and community organizers and representatives from the targeted communities.

The Toxic Waste/Lupus Coalition Project will focus on the relationship of toxic waste sites and other sources of pollution to pockets of autoimmune disease and lupus in particular.

During the first year, researchers will investigate waste sites and sources of pollution, take an inventory of pollutants at each site, identify specific clusters of lupus within the population, pretest biomarkers of exposure and develop ways to communicate the findings to the community.

In subsequent years researchers and community leaders will develop better autoimmune-disease surveillance systems, document the geographic distribution of lupus within the East Side, conduct a case-control study, evaluate clean-up of toxic sites, plan investigations of other autoimmune disorders and conduct community outreach and education workshops.

Community partners on the project will be Community Voice, Lupus Coalition and representatives from churches, block clubs, tenant councils and city council offices. Ausar Afrika of Community Voice will be community coordinator.

The West Side Environmental Health Project will investigate the relationship of asthma morbidity and mortality to exposure to airborne pollutants from truck and auto traffic at the nearby Canada-U.S. Peace Bridge border crossing. Researchers will investigate biological factors that may be contributing to the prevalence of the disease in this community and conduct a case-control study of asthma.

The project also will involve documenting Peace Bridge traffic, assessing air quality and generating general community participation. The Columbus Peace Bridge Association, Hispanics United, Western New York Hispanics and Friends, Association of Block Clubs, Western New York Asthma Coalition and Minority Asthma Coalition will be the primary community partners. A coordinator has yet to be selected.

Both projects will document how much disease exists in these communities, set up ways to measure exposure of residents to environmental pollution and establish surveillance systems. Community participants will disseminate the findings and help design and put into practice procedures to treat and prevent lupus and asthma. The long-term goal is to empower community leaders to identify and address problems as they arise.

Co-investigators from UB are Julian Ambrus, M.D., associate professor of medicine; Jamson Lwebuga-Mukasa, M.D., associate professor of medicine and director of the Center for Asthma and Environmental Exposure; Carlos Crespo, Ph.D., associate professor of social and preventive medicine; Laurene Tumiel, Ph.D, assistant professor of family medicine, and Peter Rogerson, Ph.D., professor of geography.