Major gift establishes institute incorporating community engagement in study of health
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The University of Louisville today announced the first multimillion dollar gift of President Neeli Bendapudi’s tenure to establish the Envirome Institute at the School of Medicine. The gift, $5 million, from the Owsley Brown II Family Foundation, supports the first institute dedicated to the study of the human envirome. Taking a holistic approach to researching how the human-environment interrelationship impacts peoples’ lives, the institute will build on the pioneering work of Aruni Bhatnagar, Ph.D., the institute’s director, in the field of environmental cardiology. The institute will incorporate community engagement and citizen science to introduce a singular, new approach to the study of health.
Twenty-five years ago, the Human Genome Project completed the first map of our genetic code, revealing how our genes relate to our health, and potentially our susceptibility to disease. Built on a new vision of health, the Envirome Institute pioneers actionable knowledge about all forms of health and how they are affected by the environment beyond genomics. This gift from Brown catalyzes existing resources and adds new capabilities toward the ambitious, long-term mission of studying the human envirome with the same precision and rigor applied to decoding the human genome.
“All of us at the University of Louisville are grateful to Christina Lee Brown for the trust she has put in us to tackle such a large and complex idea as how our broad environment impacts our lives,” Bendapudi said. “Her generosity will enable our group of researchers, staff and students to explore new concepts associated with exploring the elements of a single person’s overall environment and determine how that affects their lives. The impact this will have will be felt well beyond Louisville.”
“This isn’t just the University of Louisville’s Human Envirome Institute. It is Louisville’s Human Envirome Institute,” Brown said, “Each of us, individually, must put health, broadly understood, in the center of all of our public and private efforts. And we are encouraged by the will and determination of the new president, Neeli Bendapudi, to immediately step in and support the Institute’s efforts and importance to both the city of Louisville and the university.”
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity — the University of Louisville serves as the perfect home for this new unique, holistic, interdisciplinary, educational model. It is truly a world-class organization,” Bhatnagar said.
The institute will open a door to a healthier future in Louisville and across the globe. The research of Bhatnagar and colleagues has pioneered the field of environmental cardiology and begun to uncover the important influence of the environment on heart disease. The institute, by studying the relationship of our health to the natural and the social world around us, will amplify the potential of this broad and promising territory.
Humans live in complex, variable and diverse environments that are fashioned by their unique mix of history, culture and social organization. Until recently, we lacked the material and conceptual tools required for studying the health effects of the natural, social, cultural and economic dimensions of the human environment as a whole. As in the graphic Circle of Harmony and Health (below), health should be understood holistically as psychological, intellectual, spiritual, cultural, nutritional, economic and environmental health.
This institute serves as a unifying capstone organization over several existing centers including the Diabetes and Obesity Center, the Superfund Research Center and the Tobacco Regulation and Addiction Center. Together these centers have successfully attracted more than $100 million in extramural funds over the past decade. This new interdisciplinary, connected institute creates new potential to expand those resources significantly. Additionally, a Center for Healthy Air, Water and Soil will be established within the Envirome Institute to advance the work that the Louisville community began five years ago.
The Envirome Institute also introduces a more public science and opens a welcoming door for the residents of Louisville. Enviromics can involve the participation of whole communities in the process of data collection as well as in the benefits from health initiatives that may be free or subsidized. As part of a medical institution, the institute is committed to healing and helping turn discovery into actionable change, with Louisville as a living, urban laboratory.
More about Aruni Bhatnagar, Ph.D.
The newly appointed director of the Envirome Institute, Bhatnagar is the Smith and Lucille Gibson Chair in Medicine. He also is director of two University of Louisville centers, which now fall under his leadership within the Envirome Institute – the Diabetes and Obesity Center and the American Heart Association Tobacco Research and Addiction Center.
Bhatnagar’s work has led to the creation of the new field of environmental cardiology. His studies show how pollution affects the heart and blood vessels and how exposure to polluted air affects the risk of obesity and diabetes. His research, supported by several grants from the National Institutes of Health, has led to the publication of more than 250 research papers and 20 book chapters. He has mentored 55 students, fellows and trainees.
More about Christina Lee Brown, Activist & Philanthropist
Christy Brown is a global leader in creating new ways to empower “citizen scientists” to lead healthier lives by advocating for a culture of health using nature as the standard and encouraging all decisions to be made through the lens of health. She believes passionately in the potential of urban and rural communities to effect positive change by working together, at the same time celebrating their commonalities and differences.
Having a strong passion for community led Christy to become a co-founding board member of the Berry Center. Its mission is to accept no permanent damage to the ecosphere, taking the human health of local communities into consideration.
Understanding that healthy air, water and soil are the keys to the health of all life, Christy founded the Institute for Healthy Air, Water & Soil in 2014. As the institute began to lean into its work, a bigger mission began to occur all around, attracting both local and national ambassadors. The work of the Institute for Healthy Air, Water & Soil will transition into the newly founded Center for Healthy Air, Water & Soil.