Public Health Professors Awarded $19K in Seed Grants

Kelly A. Reynolds received funding to build a device to detect viruses in water, and Kacey C. Ernst received funding to work with communities in Kenya that are battling malaria.
November 17, 2011
Kelly Reynolds
Kelly Reynolds
Kacey Ernst
Kacey Ernst
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Professors Kelly A. Reynolds and Kacey C. Ernst from the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health are recipients of Faculty Seed Grants totaling $19,000 for public health research.

Reynolds, an environmental microbiologist and associate professor at the Zuckerman College of Public Health, was awarded a one-year, $9,835 seed grant to design a miniaturized device for the real-time detection of human viruses in water.

Lab-on-a-chip systems are microfluidic devices developed for the detection of waterborne microbes at a fraction of the cost of conventional methods.

This project will focus on the design of a miniaturized flow cytometer (a device for counting cells) for the detection of human viruses using engineered molecular beacons. These probes target unique microbial nucleotides, producing a fluorescent signal.

This novel approach integrates optical detection systems for fast, quantitative signal measurement. Microfluidic systems reduce reagent volumes, system cost, size and power requirements, while addressing the need for rapid, real-time environmental monitoring and disease diagnostics.

In Africa, malaria is a leading cause of death from infectious diseases, killing an estimated 800,000 people annually, predominantly children. 

Ernst, an assistant professor of epidemiology, was awarded a one-year $8,823 seed grant to work with communities in Kenya and learn more about why households are not using freely distributed and available insecticide-treated bed nets, or ITNs, to control malaria. Reports have found that some people are selling them or using them as fencing or fishing nets.

ITNs are a form of personal protection that has been shown to reduce malaria illness, severe disease and death because of malaria. In community-wide trials in several African settings, ITNs have been shown to reduce the death of children under age five years from all causes by about 20 percent and the risk of malaria by 50 percent (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

"Once we determine why and how many people are not using the ITNs, I can use the results of my research to create a new public health strategy to change the behavior," said Ernst.

The Faculty Seed Grants Program is a partnership between The University of Arizona Foundation and the Office of the Vice President for Research supporting outstanding faculty work. Seed funds are expected to provide results that can be used to solicit larger funding sources. The program is extremely competitive and involves evaluations by both peer and lay review panels.