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Spotlight on Research at COPH

Dr. LeVan Studies the Genetic Epidemiology of Respiratory Disease Among Agricultural Workers

Source: www.nyc.gov/hhc

To realize the promise of genetic epidemiology in research and public health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Tricia LeVan, PhD, established the Core Facility for Mutation and Methylation Analysis. Dr. LeVan is an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, with a research focus on how an individual’s genetic background can alter his or her susceptibility to environmental toxins, such as organic dust from the agriculture environment.

Dr. LeVan studies chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a debilitating respiratory disease of major public health concern. COPD is the third leading cause of death worldwide and a major cause of illness among people older than 45 years. Tobacco smoke is one of the best known risk factors for COPD. However, there is a strong association of COPD with agricultural exposure. Among farmers, it has recently been estimated that the prevalence of COPD is 30% in smokers and as much as 17% in those who have never smoked. Agriculture is vital to the economy of the Midwest, and Nebraskans are part of the workforce employed in agriculture. Yet there is a fundamental gap in our understanding of how agricultural exposures contribute to COPD. Dr. LeVan currently holds a VA Merit Grant that will study genes that increase susceptibility to COPD in agricultural workers.

The grant will study three populations (a total of 3,100 participants) to untangle the effects of cigarette smoke from those of agricultural exposures. Dr. LeVan hypothesizes that some genes may contribute specifically to COPD in agricultural workers. Genes identified in this study will provide insights into novel pathological mechanisms of COPD in agricultural workers and present new targets for preventive screening and/or therapeutic intervention opportunities.

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