University of Miami awarded harmful algal bloom research funding

University of Miami awarded harmful algal bloom research funding

From left:  Kim Popendorf, Ph.D., with Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, D.O., Ph.D., M.P.H.
By UM News

From left:  Kim Popendorf, Ph.D., with Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, D.O., Ph.D., M.P.H.

University of Miami awarded harmful algal bloom research funding

By UM News
Funding supports research on the human-health impacts of red tide, other harmful algal blooms

MIAMI—Researchers at University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in collaboration with UM’s Miller School of Medicine are one of four Florida universities awarded $650,000 in legislatively appropriated funds by the Florida Department of Health. This funding will support researchers in their efforts to improve the understanding of the potential long-term human-health impacts of harmful algal blooms like blue-green algae.

"Our water and natural resources are what make Florida such a desirable and unique place to live and visit. When they are threatened, our economy and way of life are threatened, too,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “These important grants will help advance the crucial research needed to ensure Floridians and visitors can safely enjoy our beautiful waterways.”

"It is an honor for us to be selected for this research award that will bring together the environmental sciences, population-level sciences and clinical resources of our marine and medical schools to support the study of harmful algal bloom impacts among Floridians and visitors,” said Kim Popendorf, assistant professor of oceans sciences at the UM Rosenstiel School and Dr. Alberto Caban-Martinez, assistant professor of public health sciences at the UM Miller School of Medicine. Popendorf and Caban-Martinez are co-principal investigators for the research project titled “Diversity and Innovation in Screening and Prevention of Exposure over the Long-term (DISPEL) to HABs”.

UM’s U-LINK initiative catalyzed the pilot work that led to the state award, bringing together a transciplinary Oceans and Human Health research team. “We are thrilled to have been able to support this pioneering research through U-LINK,” said Susan Morgan, Associate Provost for Research. “This is high-impact interdisciplinary research that will lead to significant improvements to the health of many Americans.”

The research team includes Rosenstiel School faculty Cassandra Gaston, assistant professor of Atmospheric Sciences, and Larry Brand, professor of Marine Biology and Ecology; as well as Helena Solo-Gabriele, professor of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering and Associate Dean for Research at the UM College of Engineering; and at UM Miller School of Medicine Natasha Schaefer Solle, research assistant professor of Medicine, Nichole Klatt, associate professor of Pediatrics, and Adrienne Arsht Endowed Chair in Pediatric Clinical Research, Grace Zhai, associate professor of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology and Senior Associate Dean for Basic Science Research.

Potential outcomes of the research will include improved environmental and/or human toxin tests and a better understanding of the health risks for people with variable exposure to the toxins (from the occasional beach visitor to those with occupational exposures). The priorities for the research as a whole are:

  • Prevention: Research with a focus on prevention of impacts from exposure to toxins associated with harmful algal blooms.
  • Treatment: Research with a focus on improved treatment of impacts from exposure to toxins associated with harmful algal blooms.
  • Health Disparities: Research that contributes to reductions of impacts from exposure to toxins associated with harmful algal blooms resulting from health disparities due to race, ethnicity or income.
  • Screening: Improve screening accuracy, detection of high-risk subgroups, and/or improved implementation of a HAB-toxin screening program that results in an increase in early detection or prevention of HAB related illness.

The work being conducted at UM will focus specifically on prevention, health disparities and screening, with unique transdisciplinary work being conducted by a team of researchers that have expertise in human health, ocean science, atmospheric science and environmental engineering. 

The UM research team will conduct biomonitoring to assess the cumulative, low-dose exposure of harmful algal blooms on Floridians and conduct laboratory experiments on exposure prevention by testing the ability of commercially available air filtration systems to filter out toxic inhalable particles emitted from harmful algal blooms.

This research will support the Governor's Executive Order 19-12, which aims to encourage partnerships to address critical water quality issues and their impact on the citizens and visitors to Florida.

In addition to the University of Miami, Florida Atlantic University, University of Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University also received awards.