Global WACh

January 31, 2019

Dr. Sarah Benki-Nugent awarded UW Global Innovation Fund to launch environmental health research collaborative to reduce childhood neurotoxic exposures

Every year, the UW Office of Global Affairs’ Global Innovation Fund receives dozens of proposals from UW researchers and offers seed funding to the most outstanding projects that spark cross-continental and multi-disciplinary research collaborations, innovative study abroad programming, and more.  We are so pleased that Dr. Sarah Benki-Nugent (Clinical Assistant Professor, Global Health) and her team (listed below) is one of 20 awardees this year!


UW collaborators

Kenya collaborators

Sub-Saharan Africa bears a heavy burden of environmental pollutants, including lead and other neurotoxicants that are harmful to infants’ developing brains. With the funding support, Dr. Benki-Nugent and her team will launch the Kenya Healthy Brain Project, a multi-disciplinary maternal-child environmental health research collaborative housed in the University of Nairobi in Kenya.  The collaborative will focus on conducting research on the impact of environmental toxicants on maternal-child health, building local research capacity, and moving research into practice, leveraging appropriate and efficient entry points within the Kenyan maternal-child health care system.  They hope to drive neurotoxicant research in Africa, driving much needed structural change to reduce exposures that threaten cognitive potential in African children.

The project leverages the successful collaboration in 2012 with the Departments of Global Health and Environmental and Occupation Health Sciences and the University of Nairobi Department of Paediatrics and Child Health to measure household air pollution exposure in women and children in Kenya.  Their research found alarming evidence of lower cognitive function in HIV-infected children who had higher exposures to neurotoxic pollutants, and demonstrates an urgent need for expanded research in this area.  Read the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences story to learn more about their research findings.

We look forward to hearing updates as team engages with key stakeholders and develop locally relevant strategies to reduce the adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes for children living in high-risk urban environments.