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Duke Climate Commitment Funding Launches Climate and Health Projects

The work of the interdisciplinary teams spans the university and health system

Sharp rocks in a stream with trees surrounding the edges. The image has blue filter.

The initial gift for the Duke Climate Commitment has provided funding for Climate and Health Data Expeditions, where interdisciplinary teams pursue research on data-driven topics examining climate impacts and human health. 

“Transdisciplinary research is not easy, and researchers from different scientific domains take very different approaches to problem solving and quite often use very different technical language,” says Shila Nordone, Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment director of research development.

That’s why each climate research team was required to include at least one researcher from either the School of Medicine or School of Nursing, what Nordone calls “an easy on-ramp” to cross-discipline research.

“Climate change is one of the biggest threats to the public’s health here and around the world and demands our immediate and utmost attention,” says Dr. Eugene Washington, Duke University’s chancellor for health affairs. “We are proud and grateful for how our Duke colleagues have met the moment with ambitious and interdisciplinary research ideas that help us understand the problem, plan meaningful interventions and have real impact to address climate change, health and equity.”

Nine teams submitted proposals and received seed funding in spring 2022 to conduct preliminary research.

Of the nine teams, five have been selected to receive additional funding – up to $200,000 – for the next two years. Here are those projects:

  • “Climate Change, Radon Exposure and Lung Cancer,” Principal Investigator: Tomi Akinyemiju, Duke School of Medicine and Duke Cancer Institute
  • "A Consortium to Effectively Respond to Climate Attributable Risks: Malaria Elimination and Control (ACERCAR-ME)," Principal Investigator: William Pan, Nicholas School of the Environment and Duke Global Health Institute
  • "An Interdisciplinary, Multi-Organizational Partnership to Test the Mechanisms Linking Climate Change with Human Health and to Alleviate Their Adverse Health Impacts in the Kafue Ecosystem, Zambia," Principal Investigator: John Poulsen, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • “Disease Burden + Climate-Related Disasters,” Principal Investigator: Brian McAdoo, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • "WiSER - Wildfire Smoke Exposure Response," Principal Investigator: Vijay Krishnamoorthy, Duke School of Medicine - Anesthesiology

“I was so impressed with the breadth and depth of expertise these teams brought to bear in the competition,” says Toddi Steelman, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment. “Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to the complexities of the climate challenge are essential if we are to make progress. As the winning teams exemplify in this competition, the integration of different sciences, knowledges and capacities helps us define problems and identify potential solution pathways that give us a better chance of success.”

For these projects, Nordone adds, the teams not only needed to come together to solve a problem but also needed to engage relevant communities in substantial ways throughout the research process.

The collaborations reflect the Duke Climate Commitment, which unites the university’s education, research, operations and public service missions to address the climate crisis. The commitment builds on Duke’s longstanding leadership in climate, energy and sustainability to educate a new generation of climate-fluent innovators and create equitable solutions for all. 

The earliest philanthropic support of the new initiative included $5 million from The Duke Endowment, the private foundation based in Charlotte, N.C., established in 1924 by industrialist and philanthropist James B. Duke.

Future Climate Data Expeditions for interdisciplinary teams across climate and other research areas are planned as part of the Duke Climate Commitment.

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