Stanford University’s Center for Innovation in Global Health, together with the Centre on Climate Change & Planetary Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), are proud to announce a new cohort of postdoctoral fellows in planetary health: Alandra Lopez, Minghao Qiu, and Stella Atim. The fellows will focus on the health risks of wildfire smoke, air pollution, and diseases spread from animals to humans (zoonoses), respectively.

Pictured left to right: Stella Atim, PhD, DVM, Alandra Lopez, PhD Minghao Qiu, PhD

The Planetary Health Postdoctoral Fellowship is a joint program created in 2020 by Stanford and LSHTM to support early-career researchers in tackling pressing questions in the field of planetary health. This burgeoning field addresses health outcomes created by anthropogenic climate change and environmental degradation, recognizing that human health and environmental health are inextricably entwined and codependent. Fellowship funders and partners include Stanford’s Sean N Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research, Center on Food Security and the Environment, and Woods Institute for the Environment, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Bob and Kathy Burke.

With increasing pressure on countries to meet sustainable development goals and halt accelerating climate and environmental challenges, understanding these complex links is critical. The fellowship program works to fill key gaps – helping fellows undertake the interdisciplinary research needed to propose novel, evidence-based solutions for safeguarding human health on a changing planet.

This year’s incredibly impressive cohort of planetary health fellows promises to offer valuable insights into the ways we can better protect human health from the devastating impacts of climate change and environmental degradation.

Michele Barry, Director of the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health.

Sari Kovats, Associate Professor at LSHTM’s Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health, said, “These fellowships will create a new generation of scholars who are able to address the key questions of our time. Our current and future fellows will develop the skills to support countries to develop effective measures to address the challenges of global environmental change.”

About the Fellows:

Alandra Lopez, photo credit Jerry Wang

Alandra Lopez, PhD

Alandra Lopez, PhD, is a recent graduate of the Department of Earth Science at Stanford where she worked alongside Dr. Scott Fendorf, exploring the environmental and man-made factors driving the release of harmful contaminants into the environment.

Based at Stanford for this fellowship, Lopez hopes to use Stanford and LSHTM expertise in soil chemistry and mineralogy, air quality modeling, and respiratory and pulmonary health to investigate the health impacts of smoke from wildfires that are increasing in intensity and frequency across the globe.

Lopez will assess the prevalence and health impacts of potentially harmful metals in wildfire smoke – geogenic metals found in nature that get released during wildfires – to develop strategies to mitigate human exposure. She hopes to identify policies and interventions that can protect firefighters, outdoor workers, and communities impacted by wildfires in order to decrease their risks for lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“The Planetary Health Postdoctoral Fellowship is the ideal opportunity for me to further integrate environmental science and health in my research, focusing on solutions-oriented approaches to global wildfire smoke exposure in collaboration with impacted communities and planetary health leaders at Stanford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,” she said.

Minghao Qiu

Minghao Qiu, PhD

Minghao Qiu received his PhD degree from MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society in 2021 and has worked at Stanford’s Department of Earth System Science with Dr. Marshall Burke.

Qiu’s work investigates the linkages between climate change and air pollution – along with policies that could help to mitigate their negative impacts on humans. Since witnessing the disastrous “Beijing Haze” in the winter of 2013, he has been passionate about understanding the complex relationships between health, pollution, and climate, as well as finding solutions to address these environmental challenges.

During his fellowship based at Stanford, Qiu will  explore the health impacts of climate-induced air pollution around the world – with attention to factors such as wildfire smoke and dust storms. He’ll do so by leveraging household health surveys, as well as remotely-sensed environmental data. He hopes his findings can be used to better understand the full impacts of climate change – and identify policy solutions that can simultaneously achieve environmental justice, environmental quality, and sustainable development goals.

“I am always excited about extending my research to places where it is needed the most and look forward to contributing to the current planetary health research at Stanford and LSHTM in areas like Sub-Saharan Africa,” he said. “I look forward to working with local researchers and communities in the field to better understand their priorities and shape my research in ways that help inform decisions.”

Stella Atim

Stella Atim, PhD, DVM

Stella Atim is completing her PhD in emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases from Makerere University and University of Glasgow, where she has been investigating the epidemiology of deadly Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF) in livestock farming communities along the cattle corridor in Uganda. Blood tests have found extremely high rates of CCHF antibodies along this corridor, raising concerns that environmental factors could be exacerbating the tick-borne illness.

She will be located at LSHTM’s MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit, where she will investigate environmental factors that might be contributing to the high prevalence of CCHF in Uganda. She will model man-made land use changes and climatic factors that may be driving a shift in the geographical range of ticks associated with the disease, as well as changes in livestock farming practices associated with exposure.

“Uganda is undergoing substantial changes in land use, population growth, deforestation, and weather changes, including erratic rains, floods, mudslides, and warming that are likely to increase the prevalence of ticks and the risk of tick-borne infections,” she said.

She hopes the data she gathers can help inform a public health early-warning system in Uganda and help to reduce the risk of CCHF spreading to other countries.

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This new cohort will join the first cohort of Planetary Health Fellows Dr Britt Wray and Dr Elaine Flores-Ramos who have been working on the impact of climate change on mental health.

Applications for the next cohort of planetary health fellows will open in 2023. Stay tuned for updates by subscribing to our newsletter or following @StanfordCIGH on Twitter or Instagram.

Photo by Dave Hoefler, unsplash.com.