Amr Soliman, MD, PhD: Multidisciplinary Cancer Epidemiology Research

Amr Soliman, MD, PhD

Amr Soliman, MD, PhD

Spotlight on Research at COPH – Dr. Soliman has developed a multidisciplinary cancer epidemiology research program in underserved and minority populations. Over the past 20 years, he has been collaborating with faculty in Middle Eastern countries and Africa and working with U.S. minority populations to develop a program in international cancer epidemiology and migration studies. This has led to a strong research infrastructure with several centers in Cyprus, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Malawi to investigate the epidemiology of colorectal, pancreatic, hematopoietic, and breast cancers. He also has conducted collaborative research with the minority-focused SEER registry in Detroit, the Michigan Cancer Consortium, the State Cancer Registry of Michigan, Michigan State University, and the Arab American Center for Social and Economic Services in Dearborn, Michigan. His research also includes access to cancer care and screening in these populations. Dr. Soliman’s previous experience as Co-PI of the NCI-R25 supported Cancer Education Program at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center from 1999 to 2003 and currently as the PI of the NCI-R25 E supported Cancer Epidemiology in Special Populations (CEESP) for University of Michigan and University of Nebraska public health students, provides him with the experience required to educate, train, and develop the careers of public health students.

Amr Soliman, MD, PhD, is chair and  professor of the UNMC COPH Department of Epidemiology.

Todd Wyatt, PhD: Research into the Effects of Agricultural Dust Exposures on Chronic Inflammatory Lung Disease

Todd Wyatt, PhD

Todd Wyatt, PhD

Spotlight on Research at COPH – A former popular tagline for the American Lung Association is “When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.” Unfortunately, this statement is true for too many Americans. Between 35-40 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In fact, these kinds of ongoing, progressive lung diseases are now the third leading cause of death in the United States. Treatment and management of chronic lung disease costs our nation in excess of $50 billion each year. There are no cures for chronic lung disease; therefore, prevention is an important strategy in the fight against this public health problem.

Cigarette smoking is the greatest cause of COPD. However, approximately 15%-20% of COPD is associated with workplace and environmental exposures. Nebraskans are exposed to a variety of workplace and environmental causes of lung disease. For example, agricultural dust exposures can lead to chronic inflammatory lung disease in some people. The research that Dr. Todd Wyatt and his colleagues conduct in the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (CS-CASH) addresses the nature of agricultural organic dust exposure that leads to chronic lung disease. Researchers in Dr. Wyatt’s lab are particularly interested in understanding why dust exposure is more likely to cause lung injury in some people than in others. Thus, their studies are centered on understanding the lung’s innate defense mechanism, or its ability to protect itself, against environmental dusts.

It is estimated that the average person inhales approximately 1 pound of dust every month! This dust is trapped by secreted mucus and moved out of the lungs through the coordinated action of the cilia, small whip-like hairs projecting from the cells lining the airways. This process keeps most people healthy and safe from disease, as the lungs are kept clean and sterile. However, under certain exposure conditions, the protective action of the cilia can be compromised, leading to sustained injury from direct inhalation of toxins, or to reactive inflammation from viral or bacterial infection.

Cilia respond to environmental challenges by speeding up or slowing down. Dr. Wyatt’s lab studies the molecular, cellular, and biochemical pathways that cause cilia to slow in response to agricultural organic dust inhalation in hopes of understanding who might be at risk for chronic lung disease. Furthermore, they examine whether multiple exposures, such as cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption, worsen inhalational lung injury. With this research, they hope to enhance worker health and safety in Nebraska’s agricultural sector.

Todd Wyatt, PhD, is a professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Environmental, Agricultural and Occupational Health; a professor in the UNMC College of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep & Allergy; and deputy director of the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health

Plaza Partnership: Supporting Collaborative Health Sciences Research



Spotlight on Research at COPH – The scene: Ten tables of four are spread throughout a meeting room, covered with large pieces of paper, markers and post-its. At each table sit individuals who, regardless of occupation or discipline, share mutual interest in and passion for the health of the South Omaha community. The room buzzes with conversation around a single question posed to the group: What will it look like and feel like when a truly trustworthy relationship is in place that fosters the research we all want and need?

This question, one of several asked at World Café workshops, drives the Plaza Partnership model for supporting collaborative health sciences research. Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2010, the Plaza Partnership project aims to build the readiness, capacity, and data support systems for both community and academia to work together for health research in South Omaha.

The Plaza, a metaphorical reference to the community square found in many Latin American cities, is anchored by its four partners: Douglas County Health Department, South Omaha Community Care Council, OneWorld Community Health Centers, Inc., and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Each partner contributes to the development of readiness, capacity, and data activities by providing their leadership, community advocacy, and first-hand knowledge of South Omaha.

In the summer of 2011, the Plaza Partnership held its first series of readiness events, including World Café workshops, which brought together community and academia representatives for thoughtful conversation around health research. Following these events, participants came forward to form the first cohort of community-linked research teams that would train together through the Research Action Learning (ReAL) Collaborative. Plaza Partners repeated the process in the summer of 2012, yielding a second cohort of teams.

Teams kicked-off their journeys in January of 2012 and 2013. Through the ReAL Collaborative training, teams increased their capacity to do collaborative health research. The Data Workgroup supported each team’s data needs, and continues to reach out to Plaza Partners for developing mutually beneficial tools for future health research in South Omaha. Ultimately, teams developed written proposals for community-based research projects.

As funding for the project draws to a close, Plaza Partners are investing time and resources into a modified ReAL Collaborative training, complete with online modules. With the curriculum made available to communities across the nation, the Plaza Partnership hopes this tool will support similar efforts working to foster truly trustworthy relationships for community-linked health research. Stay tuned! For more information, visit the Plaza Partnership website or e-mail Dr. Christopher Fisher at

This article was written by Christopher Fisher, PhD, assistant professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health and principal investigator of the Plaza Partnership project, and by Molly McInturf, graduate assistant in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health.

Fernando Wilson, PhD: Research on Public Health Policy and Health Services



Spotlight on Research at COPH – Dr. Wilson studies public health issues using econometrics. Econometrics brings together economics, mathematics, and statistics to analyze data. This type of analysis allows researchers to test theories, forecast outcomes, and evaluate policies. Currently, Dr. Wilson is principal investigator for a project examining the effectiveness of state distracted driving policies in decreasing motor vehicle injuries and fatalities. This work is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Public Health Law Research program. Driving while distracted has become a high profile threat to road safety in recent years with the proliferation of cell phones and other mobile electronic devices, resulting in thousands of fatalities every year. However, designing and enforcing policies to effectively discourage drivers from using electronic devices while driving has been difficult. For example, there is little evidence that bans on texting while driving have been effective in curbing this behavior. Dr. Wilson’s study seeks to analyze which policies work to reduce crashes from distracted driving and, if a policy is not working, to determine how it can be improved.

Econometric techniques may also shed new light on long-standing problems in public health and health services research. For example, policies that restrict access to health care and other services by immigrants have been—and will continue to be—points of contention among state and federal policymakers. The unauthorized immigrant population in particular is notoriously difficult to study, and thus, inferences about their impact on the US health care system are largely speculative. Yet knowledge of this impact is an important but missing component of the policy debate surrounding immigration reform and immigrant access to health insurance exchanges in the Affordable Care Act. By using sophisticated econometric analysis with nationally representative data on immigrants, Drs. Jim Stimpson, Dejun Su and Wilson were able to predict health care utilization and expenditures for the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States, thus providing an important contribution to the policy debate. Results from this study were recently published in Health Affairs.

Dr. Wilson joined UNMC in January 2013. He received a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago and BA in economics from the University of Texas at Austin. He has worked in public health since 2006.

Fernando Wilson, PhD, is an associate professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Services Research and Administration. 

Gleb Haynatzki, PhD: Developing Statistical Models for Disease to Prevent, Treat, and Improve Quality of Life at the Individual and Population Level

Gleb Haynatzki, PhD

Gleb Haynatzki, PhD

Spotlight on Research at COPH – Dr. Haynatzki’s research focuses on developing statistical models for disease to prevent, treat, and improve the quality of life in individuals and whole populations. Statistical modeling is currently the most accepted approach to modeling random phenomena that are studied in the biomedical and population health sciences. Dr. Haynatzki’s past research was focused on osteoporosis, bone biology, violence prevention, and glaucoma screening. He currently works with researchers on the UNMC campus on the design and analysis of research studies, both designed and observational. These studies range from explaining the causes of health disparities, peripheral arterial disease, and pancreatic cancer to Alzheimer’s disease treatment.

His statistical methodology work is developing methods for modeling hereditary and sporadic carcinogenesis, carcinogenesis, and genetic anticipation. For example, genetic anticipation can involve an earlier age at onset, greater disease severity, and/or a higher number of affected individuals in successive generations in a family with a familial disorder. Established anticipation provides clues to the nature of the disease and facilitates prediction of age of disease onset. It is important to detect true anticipation and not artifacts (which may be due to ascertainment bias, difference in length of follow-up time between generations, and effects of secular/nongenetic trends). In this type of statistical model building for time-to-event data, it is also important to control for the family-clustered structures in the dataset. There are different statistical methods to analyze this type of data, which are divided into two large classes: semiparametric and nonparametric. Dr. Haynatzki’s work focused on the comparison between these two approaches, and the conclusion was that the current nonparametric methods, as a whole, are the better approach.

Another research project developed by Dr. Haynatzki focused on the association of meat consumption, preparation, and meat-derived carcinogens with the risk of sporadic pancreatic cancer. The objective of this hospital-based study was to identify dietary meat and preparation type factors as well as meat-derived mutagens that are associated with the risk of pancreatic cancer. Data collected on 99 case-control pairs from Italy matched by age, gender, and region, and enrolled in the international Pancreatic Cancer Collaborative Registry, were analyzed. It was discovered that pancreatic cancer was associated in a nonlinear fashion with dietary intake of processed meat as well as increased intake of a certain mutagen (MeIQX) and, to a lesser extent, was associated in a nonlinear fashion with frying and increased dietary intake of the mutagen BaP.

Gleb Haynatzki, PhD, is a professor and graduate program director in the UNMC COPH Department of Biostatistics.

Six members of the College of Public Health faculty receive UNMC Distinguished Scientist Award

UNMC Distinguished Scientist award ceremony

UNMC Distinguished Scientist award ceremony

On April 30, 2013, six members of the College of Public Health faculty received awards recognizing their scientific research and funding success.

The UNMC Distinguished Scientist award — which is sponsored by the chancellor — recognizes researchers who have been among the most productive scientists in the country during the past five years.

This year’s award recipients are:

  • Gleb Haynatzki, Ph.D., DSc, Professor – Department of Biostatistics
  • Terry Huang, Ph.D., MPH, CPH, Professor and Chair – Department of Health Promotion and Social Behavioral Health
  • Risto Rautiainen, Ph.D., Associate Professor – Department of Environmental, Agricultural and Occupational Health
  • Mohammad Siahpush, Ph.D., Professor – Department of Health Promotion and Social Behavioral Health

The UNMC New Investigator awards go to outstanding UNMC scientists who in the past two years have secured their first funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense or other national sources. New Investigators also had to demonstrate scholarly activity such as publishing their research and/or presenting their findings at national conventions.

This year’s recipients are:

  • Ashish Joshi, M.D., MD, MPH, Assistant Professor – Department of Health Services Research and Administration
  • James Stimpson, Ph.D., Associate Professor – Department of Health Services Research and Administration
  Dr. Ashish Joshi, Dean Ayman El Mohandes and Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, MD

Dr. Ashish Joshi, Dean Ayman El Mohandes and Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, MD


Dr. Mohammad Siahpush, Dr. Sergio Costa, Dr. Terry Huang and COPH Dean Ayman El MohandesSiahpush

Dr. Mohammad Siahpush, Dr. Sergio Costa, Dr. Terry Huang and COPH Dean Ayman El Mohandes

Philip W. Smith, MD: Research on Hospital Environmental Cleanliness

Above, a study nurse obtains an environmental study sample.

Above, a study nurse obtains an environmental study sample.

Spotlight on Research at COPH – Dr. Smith’s major current research project relates to detection of hospital environmental cleanliness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that hospitalization is potentially hazardous, with approximately 1.7 million infections occurring in hospitalized patients in the United States annually. The environment in a hospital may look clean but harbor dangerous bacteria, such as MRSA, that may be transmitted to patients.

Looking for environmental contamination in the past has usually involved taking samples from surfaces and analyzing them in the microbiology laboratory, a process that takes several days. Dr. Smith’s research, in collaboration with Dr. Shawn Gibbs, Harlan Sayles, and Dr. Angela Hewlett (also of the College of Public Health), is evaluating a new rapid test for environmental contamination with a device developed by 3M. The device gives results within minutes in the room, allowing more immediate feedback to be given to environmental service personnel.

Dr. Smith’s group is comparing the new, rapid technique to the standard, labor-intensive method of sampling bacteria on hospital surfaces in a number of settings, including UNMC and outstate hospitals (Columbus Community Hospital and Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff, Nebraska). The research team is also working in the laboratory, with 10 different bacteria that cause hospital infections, and on a dozen different surfaces (e.g., steel, plastic, vinyl, carpet).

Another phase of the research project involves comparing different educational interventions with environmental services personnel to see whether environmental cleaning scores can be improved using the new 3M device. Providing feedback through cleaning scores is a powerful incentive to optimize cleaning. The study is also looking at other interventions, such as on-site demonstrations of the device, presentation of the cleaning scores on specific high-risk sites in the room, and other forms of positive feedback. In addition, the study is piloting a gaming device based on scores developed by Beth Beam and Stephen Smith of the UNMC College of Nursing.

The study has been very well received by environmental service personnel at The Nebraska Medical Center, and the research team is looking for additional applications of the rapid detection device.


Philip W. Smith, MD, is co-director of the Center for Preparedness Education, a joint endeavor between Creighton University Medical Center and The Nebraska Medical Center that resides in the UNMC COPH. Dr. Smith is a professor in the UNMC College of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine, in the Division of Infectious Diseases, and a professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Epidemiology.