Fellowship Project: Environmental exposures in the home environment and COPD exacerbation.
Raphael E Arku is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, School of Public Health & Health Sciences. Dr. Arku’s field of teaching and research is primarily in air pollution, with the broad focus of his research on how features of the social and physical environment influence environmental exposures and health in resource-poor settings, with a particular focus on vulnerable populations, both locally and globally.
On an international level, Dr. Arku has been working to address important questions in global health on how poverty, unsafe water and sanitation, lack of access to clean cooking fuel, and high levels of air pollution in cities disproportionately influence population health in low- and middle-income countries. For example, with collaborators from leading universities in Ghana, Canada, UK, Bangladesh, and China, coordinated by Imperial College London, he is taking the lead on the Ghana component of a multi-investigator, multi-country project titled “Pathways to equitable healthy cities”, which aims to understand how actions related to water, sanitation, housing, transportation, and urban services affect health and health inequalities in cities. In another project, Dr. Arku and his colleagues from the University of British Columbia and Oregon State University, are working on a global study assessing air pollution and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in low- and middle-income economies within a large international cohort.
Locally in the US, Dr. Arku has contributed to research on air pollution in Boston Public Housing, one of the largest housing authorities in the US, focusing on how to promote public health policies to improve health in low-income households. As he moves forward in his career at UMass Amherst with support from the JBP Fellowship Program, Dr. Arku aims to partner with colleagues from the Baystate Health and Baystate Medical Center to use novel technological approaches to characterize the living environment for communities in Western Mass that are differentially affected by high rates of childhood asthma and child mortality, and adult Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Raphael received his Doctor of Science (ScD) degree in Environmental Health from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2015, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at The University of British Columbia in 2017.
Environmental exposures in the home environment and COPD exacerbation
COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is among the leading causes of death in the U.S. and costs billions in healthcare cost, with most of the costs due to hospital readmissions from exacerbation of existing COPD. Although environmental exposures are known to worsen COPD symptoms, limited studies exist on preventable environmental triggers. Compared to the vast data linking environmental tobacco smoke and ambient air pollution, little is known about other environmental exposures in the home environment and the risk of COPD exacerbation. Since COPD patients spend more time at home than their healthy counterparts, addressing triggers in the home environment will improve quality of life for patients and reduce healthcare cost, a win-win situation for both healthcare providers and patients. Our long-term goal is to identify, quantify, and ultimately intervene on factors in the home environment that may trigger exacerbation of existing COPD. Being preliminary in nature, this proposal aims to: 1) establish local partnerships with community-based organizations and health researchers; and 2) generate a pilot data for future grant submission to conduct intervention study in Western Massachusetts communities that are disproportionately affected by high rates of COPD, and by poor COPD control. Future intervention studies following this pilot would provide avenues for cost-effective and novel management of a disease with limited treatment options.