Meet the Med Student: Jonathon Lewis

Posted on July 16, 2024
Meet the Med Student: Jonathon Lewis

Jonathon Lewis, second-year medical student at the University of Louisville

Jonathon Lewis, a second-year medical student at the University of Louisville School of Medicine recently represented the ULSOM at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) RISE Conference: Developing Future Leaders in Academic Medicine & Science for 2nd-year Medical Students. Before joining ULSOM, Jonathon graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience and the University of Michigan with a Master of Science in Physiology. Jonathon now serves as the Vice President of the Class of 2027 and Course Representative for Neuro Anatomy.

ULSOM: What has been your inspiration to pursue medical school?

Lewis: I had always been drawn towards science and math growing up, but in the fourth grade, I began to experience heel pain. The pain would only worsen, and it eventually reached the point where I had to consult an orthopedic doctor. He told me that I was diagnosed with Sever's disease, which is a common growth plate disease in active young people, and that I would need to sit out for the rest of my current football season. At the time, I was heartbroken, as I loved football more than anything, so I began to sob uncontrollably in his office. He comforted me by saying that if I kept my good grades, I could take over for him one day. To a sad 4th grader, his words did not mean much, but as I grew up and began researching all the cool things an orthopedic surgeon does, I became fascinated with the career. Finally, after shadowing doctors throughout high school, I decided to attend medical school. 

ULSOM: How would you describe your medical school experience up to this point? 

Lewis: My experience has been fantastic. I love my classmates and teachers here at Louisville. Everyone is so supportive, welcoming, and easy to talk to. Our class shares tons of materials that help digest the content. I feel that I have been able to keep up with the things I love, like going to the gym while maintaining a social life and heavy workload. 

ULSOM: What are your goals as a future physician?

Lewis: I have lofty goals for my future as a physician. One of my main drivers for getting through medical school is to help bridge the health inequity gap in underserved populations. In 2021, I worked as a scribe in South Side Chicago, where I witnessed the closing of Mercy Hospital. It was the community's only hospital that provided comprehensive specialty care. Due to Mercy's closing, patients who came to our medical clinic needed to be referred to hospitals that were referred to hospitals that were now 30–40-minute drives away from them. Since many relied on public transportation, their commutes to receive care lasted upwards of an hour. They also reported to me that their issues were not taken seriously once they went to these hospitals. Ultimately, I want to become an orthopedic surgeon and use my resources and network to help create medical infrastructure for those with limited access. 

ULSOM: How did your recent experience at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) RISE Conference: Developing Future Leaders in Academic Medicine & Science for 2nd-year Medical Students impact you as a future physician?

Lewis: My recent experience at the RISE conference was eye-opening. I got to meet so many outstanding students across the country who were very driven and inspirational. I tried my best to learn as much as possible from them. The program highlighted the importance of maintaining your purpose and meaning as a physician, which was refreshing. As a medical student, your academic workload can often consume you. I learned how to heighten my emotional intelligence to help better lead my staff and those around me as a future physician. This program also supplied me with a network of future leading physicians who are all eager to make a positive impact on this world. 

ULSOM: As you continue your progression through medical school, what other opportunities excite you?

Lewis: Through the RISE conference, I was able to connect with Dr. Geoffrey Young, who is working on implementing the AAMC's action plan to increase the diversity of medical school applicants and matriculants. I'm very excited at the possibility of working with him and helping to diversify the medical field. As a member of UofL SOM's Distinction in Business track, I'm excited to continue to learn more about the business side of medicine and continue to take part in projects that shape our community. I'm also happy to have the opportunity to continue networking with orthopedic surgeons and sports science physicians and to grow my research background.  

The University of Louisville School of Medicine proudly recognizes Lewis for his achievements and commends him for his dedication to learning and growth throughout his tenure in medical school.

UofL researchers gain $3.6 million to study and prevent effects of arsenic exposure

Posted by UofL News on July 9, 2024
UofL researchers gain $3.6 million to study and prevent effects of arsenic exposure

UofL researchers have secured $3.6 million to study the effects of arsenic exposure. The most common source of exposure is drinking contaminated water, particularly ground water from private wells. (Source:

University of Louisville researchers have received $3.6 million in new grant funding to study the role of arsenic exposure in causing cancer and other major health concerns. And, they think there’s a simple, off-the-shelf solution — zinc — that could help prevent some of its worst effects. 

Arsenic is highly poisonous and occurs naturally in some rocks and soil. As a result, the most common source of exposure is drinking contaminated water, particularly ground water from private wells. More than 43 million people in the U.S. alone get their water from private wells, including many in areas of Kentucky that may be contaminated from previous coal mining. 

“What people don’t realize is that private wells and even public water supplies serving smaller numbers of people are not regulated,” said Chris States, a UofL School of Medicine researcher who’s been studying arsenic’s role in cancer for more than 25 years. “People using private wells for their water are on their own to test for toxic chemicals.” 

Chronic exposure to low doses of arsenic, as from drinking water, can cause a host of serious health concerns, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and several cancers, including skin, lung and bladder cancer. In high doses, arsenic can also be fatal. 

States and collaborator, Mayukh Banerjee, backed by two new grants from the National Institutes of Health and American Cancer Society totaling $3.6 million, are working to discover what specifically about arsenic exposure can cause and accelerate the development of those conditions. Understanding this cause and effect could help researchers and public health officials find ways to keep people safe and healthy.

States and Banerjee believe it may all come down to how arsenic binds with proteins that help the body regulate the expression of genes. When gene expression isn’t properly regulated, your cells can begin to behave abnormally, mutating and multiplying out of control and not dying when they should. In other words, they become cancer cells. 

Many proteins need zinc to do their jobs properly. When arsenic binds with these proteins instead, it takes the place zinc would normally fill. This disables these regulatory proteins and accelerates dysregulation.

Even worse, Banerjee said, is that there’s significant overlap between the communities who drink potentially contaminated well water and those who are more likely to have a zinc deficiency. If the body doesn’t have enough zinc to bind with the regulatory proteins in the first place, it can increase your risk of some of the same health concerns as arsenic exposure — including heart disease and cancer. An estimated 17.3 percent of the global population is zinc deficient. 

“It’s a double whammy,” said Banerjee, an assistant professor of pharmacology. “The populations we’re talking about are largely impoverished and rural, who are already more likely to be zinc deficient because they don’t have access to healthy, nutritious foods. So, you have a lack of zinc in the diet exacerbated by arsenic preventing what zinc they have from doing its job in the body.” 

There isn’t currently any medication that treats chronic arsenic exposure. However, Banerjee said, there may be a simple, over-the-counter solution — if the problem is a lack of zinc, it may be treatable with a zinc supplement. His research has shown zinc supplementation can mitigate or even regress some of the worse effects of arsenic exposure. 

“Zinc is over-the-counter, which makes it cheaper and readily accessible,” Banerjee said. “But I don’t think a lot of people are even aware of the potential danger of well water or what it can cause. We really hope this work can help those people.”

UofL researcher leads students through transformative wastewater research

Posted on July 9, 2024
UofL researcher leads students through transformative wastewater research

Image of UofL honors student Dammy Jeboda

Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute researcher and associate professor from the School of Medicine, Rochelle Holm Ph. D., is leading transformative research in wastewater-based epidemiology across both Kentucky and Malawi. This initiative is not only advancing scientific knowledge but is leading to a rewarding research experience in Malawi for eight students.

Holm, known for her extensive work in global health research in the areas of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH), has spent more than a decade in Malawi conducting research. She is currently working to cross the boundaries of research and innovative practice by collaborating with rural communities, government officials, and academia with a special focus on sanitation system data for better community monitoring of pathogens.

Eight University of Louisville and North Carolina State University students were selected for the opportunity to join Holm’s research in Malawi. Through the International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), these students participated in eight weeks of ground-breaking water, sanitation, and hygiene field work in Malawi this summer.

“My time in Malawi has been unforgettable as I have had the opportunity to research the public opinion of wastewater-based epidemiology in Malawi and how public health surveillance privacy concerns may differ from those in the United States,” said UofL Honors student, Dammy Jeboda. Jeboda’s project used both a respondent survey and a game-based theory with a board game she developed to investigate public health surveillance privacy concerns.

While in Malawi, the team also participated in a service-learning opportunity called Girls Science Day, which brought together 250 elementary-aged girls to educate them on wastewater, sanitation, and viruses with a strong emphasis in STEM education. Malawi has both a national water policy and national sanitation policy, but this is both a lack of enforcing and teaching the community these public health policies. Not only were the girls excited to learn about these policies and the research being conducted in their community, but their teachers and the student volunteers were proud to be able to foster the next generation of global health professionals.

“It has been a great honor to have these eight students join me in research in Malawi this summer,” says Holm, “Their dedication to being a part of groundbreaking public health improvements is inspiring and I am proud to be a part of their journeys.”

Upon completion of the program, the students are encouraged to co-author manuscripts for peer-reviewed journals and to present their research at conferences. The University of Louisville School of Medicine is dedicated to providing the pathways towards innovative research experiences and commends Dr. Holm and the team for their dedication to international research.

New class of Residents and Fellows welcomed to the UofL School of Medicine

Posted on July 1, 2024
New class of Residents and Fellows welcomed to the UofL School of Medicine

Image welcoming newest cohort of residents and fellows to their new home at the University of Louisville School of Medicine

The University of Louisville School of Medicine is excited to welcome its newest class of residents and fellows. Beginning July 1, 2024, these incoming medical professionals will embark on an important phase of their journey alongside our esteemed faculty as their educators and mentors. This year’s cohort includes 262 residents and fellows, all eager to begin their specialized training at UofL.

“I am filled with such excitement and pride as we welcome our new residents and fellows beginning the next steps of their medical journey here with us at UofL,” said Jeffrey Bumpous, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “This marks the beginning of an exciting chapter where your passion and dedication for medicine will not only shape your future but will also impact the countless lives of our patients and their families.”

The University of Louisville School of Medicine is known for its wide range of resources, programs, and opportunities that are designed to support and nurture the needs of residents and fellows. With faculty members that are driven by the opportunity to inspire and teach future physicians, the new class of trainees are sure to find a transformative educational experience during their tenure at the UofL School of Medicine.

Coupled with innovative teaching methods, the hands-on learning opportunities provided at the UofL School of Medicine will inspire well-rounded medical professionals that will provide compassionate and quality care for years to come.

Dwayne Compton, Ed.D., chief diversity officer for the School of Medicine, emphasized the importance of diversity within the incoming class. “This incoming class of new residents and fellows will bring unique perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences to our community and will enhance our ability to provide equitable care to our patients. I am confident this new group of trainees will create the inclusive environment where every patient feels seen and heard.”  

Learn more about advancing your medical journey with the University of Louisville School of Medicine Residency and Fellowship programs

Bumpous named executive vice president of health affairs and dean, UofL School of Medicine

Posted on June 28, 2024
Bumpous named executive vice president of health affairs and dean, UofL School of Medicine

Jeffrey M. Bumpous, MD, UofL's new executive vice president for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

The University of Louisville has selected a 30-plus-year medical and higher education veteran to transform its health enterprise and lead its School of Medicine, one of the oldest and most celebrated medical schools in North America.  

The Board of Trustees today named Jeffrey M. Bumpous, MD, the university’s new executive vice president of health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, effective July 1. In addition to providing strategic leadership and financial oversight for the medical school and its academic programs, clinical activities and research, the EVP/dean will strengthen the partnership with the university’s primary provider affiliate, UofL Health, one of Louisville’s largest employers. Bumpous will work closely with UofL Health’s CEO to ensure continued financial stability and advancement of both organizations’ respective missions, while advancing the goal of creating an interdependent, shared academic health enterprise.

“I am confident Dr. Jeffrey Bumpous is the right leader at the right time to further advance the tremendous partnership between the University of Louisville and UofL Health,” said UofL President Kim Schatzel. “Both institutions are critical to address the crisis of health care workforce shortages and ensure Kentuckians in both urban and rural areas have access to high-quality health care.” 

Bumpous, an otolaryngologist – head and neck surgeon, has served as UofL’s interim School of Medicine dean and vice president of academic medical affairs since June 2023.  He earned a doctor of medicine degree at UofL and has been a faculty member since 1994. He is the J. Samuel Bumgardner Professor and chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and Communicative Disorders and is an associate clinical director at UofL Health - Brown Cancer Center.  

“This appointment is a testament to Dr. Bumpous’ courageous leadership and commitment to advancing medical education and research at UofL,” said Gerry Bradley, provost and executive vice president.  “He has the deep respect of his colleagues and will continue to prepare students for success in a rapidly changing clinical environment.” 

Innovation in education: UofL faculty create website featuring hands on teaching resources

Posted on June 26, 2024
Innovation in education: UofL faculty create website featuring hands on teaching resources

Leadership in Academic Medicine (LIAM) c/o 2024

Faculty members at the University of Louisville Health Sciences Center (HSC) have launched an innovative website which serves as a one-stop resource for hands-on teaching tools. Developed by four faculty members as a part of their Leadership and Innovation in Academics Matter (LIAM) project, the website features a variety of novel teaching methods to educate the next generation of medical professionals.  

The project was facilitated by the LIAM program, a 10-month training program designed to develop the next generation of leaders at the University of Louisville. LIAM participants are immersed in monthly face-to-face workshops and weekly asynchronous content with capstone team projects preparing them to lead in an academic setting.

Motivated by research indicating that learners are more successful when less traditional methods of teaching are incorporated, Drs. Bickel (Pediatrics), Javid (Surgery), Hilgefort (Family and Sports Medicine), and Villalobos (Dentistry) developed Louisville Teaches, a comprehensive website for all faculty to access resources to help them integrate unique methods into their teaching such as using game-based learning, flipped classroom methods, and artificial intelligence. The department of Pediatrics has already begun using the resources.

LIAM is administered by the HSC Office of Professional & Educational Development and has more than 200 graduates, including faculty from all four UofL HSC schools, the College of Business, College of Education and Human Development and the College of Arts & Sciences.

The cohort celebrated their graduation from the LIAM program this week, but the doctors that developed Louisville Teaches plan to continue to add new content with monthly updates to the website. It is the hope of the team that future cohorts of the LIAM program will elect to expand Louisville Teaches through their own projects.

“As the LIAM program works to develop the next generation of leaders at UofL, we wanted to design a project that would extend far beyond the parameters of our cohort, creating a lasting impact on the School of Medicine and its doctors, the medical students, and the patients who receive care from these individuals,” says Scott Bickel, M.D., associate professor of Pediatrics. 

The website not only highlights the innovative work of faculty members, but also showcases collaborative efforts across various disciplines. By sharing resources, the project encourages faculty to incorporate these new methods into their teachings, which enhances our student’s overall educational experience.

“We are incredibly proud of the collaborative and creative efforts by our faculty in developing these resources,” said Jeffrey Bumpous, M.D., interim dean of the School of Medicine. “Louisville Teaches exemplifies our commitment to educational innovation, providing our faculty with the tools to create a dynamic learning environment for our medical students and others.”

Faculty and staff are encouraged to submit their own favorite resources or examples to be included on the site. For more information on the resources and to see how they can be applied in your own classroom, please visit

UofL study shows heat affects the immune system

Posted by UofL News on June 20, 2024
UofL study shows heat affects the immune system

UofL research finds short-term heat exposure may increase inflammation and impair the immune system. Image from

Whether it is a day on the lake or an afternoon working in the yard, exposure to high temperatures may harm your health by impacting your immune system, according to University of Louisville research.

Periods of extreme heat often result in an increase in deaths, mostly related to heart conditions. A UofL research study shows that heat also can impair the immune system and increase damaging inflammation, according to Daniel Riggs, assistant professor of environmental medicine and affiliated with UofL’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute.

Riggs and his colleagues recorded levels of immune cells and biomarkers in the blood of 624 participants in Louisville during summer months. They then compared those levels with the Universal Thermal Climate Index for that day, which factors in air temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and ultraviolet radiation levels as a measure of heat exposure.

They found that when it was hotter, the participants had higher levels of immune molecules in their blood, indicating a general immune response and inflammation, as well as lower levels of B-cells, which allow the body to fight specific infections. This means that with higher heat, people may be more susceptible to infection and more sensitive to environmental exposures, which in turn can contribute to worsened heart disease.

“We know that certain changes in the immune system and increased inflammation are a leading mechanism in many types of cardiovascular disease. Our findings suggest that heat exposure could be contributing to these processes that ultimately lead to greater risk of cardiovascular disease,” Riggs said.

Riggs presented the research at the American Heart Association Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Conference in March.

University of Louisville School of Medicine celebrates a decade of the eQuality program

Posted on June 12, 2024
University of Louisville School of Medicine celebrates a decade of the eQuality program

School of Medicine, ICM1 Presentation with Dr. Lisa Gunterman and Aaron Weathers

The 2024-2025 academic year marks a significant milestone for the University of Louisville School of Medicine as it celebrates its tenth year of integrating the eQuality program into its curriculum. This innovative program focuses on offering training for future physicians on the unique healthcare needs of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), gender nonconforming (GNC), or born with differences of sex development (DSD).

eQuality is more than just an educational program; it is an integrated educational model that incorporates content throughout required medical curricula, promoting student and faculty development and institutional change. The curriculum is based on medical education competencies from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“eQuality allows us to instill in current and future physicians the importance of delivering evidenced based, affirming healthcare that is tailored to fit patient needs, specifically those of the LGBTQ+ community,” said Lisa Gunterman, director of the HSC LGBT Center.

Individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ face unique challenges when seeking healthcare. These challenges are often overlooked and result in decreased access to care or willingness to seek care. This disparity has led to an increase in medical morbidity and mortality for these patients.

The UofL School of Medicine is committed to bridging the gap in training health care professionals for these patients, with the goal of diminishing disparities among this community. The eQuality program trains accepting, informed, patient-centered physicians.

“Entering the tenth year of the eQuality program at the UofL School of Medicine, we would like to recognize the efforts made by our students, staff, and physicians to change the outlook of health care for the LGBTQ+ communities and encourage other medical institutions to adopt eQuality resources for use within their own teachings,” said Ann Shaw, MD, vice dean for Undergraduate Medical Education.

Designed for continuous assessment, refinement, and dissemination, the eQuality program aims to drive global improvement in medical education and physician competence. As the nation’s pilot site for eQuality, the UofL School of Medicine has set a precedent for success and serves as a model for other institutions.

The eQuality program represents a decade of progress and a promising future of continued advocacy and excellence in medical education. The UofL School of Medicine remains dedicated to this crucial initiative to create a more inclusive and equitable healthcare system for all.

Zoha Mian to Lead Visionary Research in Tanzania with Kean Fellowship

Posted on May 30, 2024
Zoha Mian to Lead Visionary Research in Tanzania with Kean Fellowship

Zoha Mian, rising fourth-year medical student

Zoha Mian, a rising fourth-year medical student at the University of Louisville School of Medicine has been awarded the Benjamin H. Kean Travel Fellowship by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The Benjamin H. Kean Travel Fellowship in Tropical Medicine is awarded annually to support medical students involved in clinical or research electives in tropical areas. This fellowship will support her research efforts in Tanzania, where she will focus on combating corneal disease and improving eye health in low and middle-income countries.

Mian’s journey to global health began when she pursued a master’s degree at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). “Ultimately, I pursued this master’s to learn how to be a researcher,” said Mian, “I hope to use this experience to spearhead other global health research projects in the future and learn from eye health researchers and doctors abroad on how I can eliminate blindness and increase access in my own setting back home in America.”

The University of Louisville School of Medicine faculty stand as a pillar of support in Mian’s journey. The faculty members at the University of Louisville were instrumental in facilitating my attainment of this award and providing invaluable assistance in navigating logistical challenges,” said Mian. This support has been crucial in her preparation for the fellowship and the work she plans to accomplish while in Tanzania.

Mian’s decision to focus her research endeavors in Tanzania was guided by the country's pivotal role in global health initiatives and the guidance of her mentors from LSHTM, Drs. John Buchan, Astrid Leck, Tara Mtuy, Robert Butcher, and Einoti Matayan. Their extensive research in tackling fungal keratitis provided Mian with the insight and support needed to develop this project.

Inspired by a diverse array of experiences, including attendance at the Global Ophthalmology Summit and insights into the escalating burden of untreated corneal disease in low and middle-income countries, Mian embodies a determination to institute meaningful change in the landscape of eye health. Through her research endeavors in Tanzania, she aspires to not only address the gaps in fungal keratitis treatment but also play a part in paving the way for a more comprehensive, inclusive approach to ocular health that transcends borders and transforms lives.

As Mian embarks on this transformative journey, the ULSOM stands behind her, confident that her research will make strides in advancing global eye health.  Congratulations to Zoha Mian on receiving the Kean Fellowship and best wishes for her research efforts in Tanzania!

Resilience Despite Uncertainty: The Journey of the Class of 2024

Posted on May 8, 2024
Resilience Despite Uncertainty: The Journey of the Class of 2024

Andrew Willet, class of 2024

The University of Louisville School of Medicine’s class of 2024 embarked on their medical journey amidst a time of great uncertainty in the world – the COVID-19 pandemic. In a time when physical classrooms were swapped for virtual ones, these aspiring physicians remained resilient in their journey to medicine. Andrew Willett, 2024 MD candidate, is among those who navigated through the unprecedented challenges of virtual learning as an added stressor to his medical school experience. Nonetheless, Willett was determined to continue pursuing his goal of becoming a physician.

“I was so grateful to be entering medical school that I didn’t think about the pros and cons of starting during a pandemic – I was simply ready to begin this next phase of my career and wasn’t going to alter my trajectory given the global circumstances,” said Willett.

Pursuing his medical career during a pandemic was not without challenge. Willett highlighted the difficulties of transitioning from an in-person curriculum to a virtual one. This transition created a learning curve and made it challenging to adapt to the pace of medical school. The virtual nature of his M1 year, along with the hospitals being overwhelmed by the pandemic, made clinical experiences as an early medical student difficult to pursue. Social gatherings were far and few in between which didn’t allow for much in-person connection as a class.

Through all the struggle of the virtual nature of his M1 year, Willett still feels fortunate to have started medical school when he did as it encouraged resiliency. “The biggest skill I learned from this experience was becoming comfortable with the unknown and learning how to deal with circumstances that I didn’t create,” said Willett. The commotion during the pandemic allowed Willett to grow in ways that will stay with him through the entirety of his medical career.

Willett recalled a moment that will stick with him forever as a result of this experience. “I remember being vaccinated early during the vaccination efforts while simultaneously learning about the principles of immunology and virology during the second semester of our M1 year – that was a very cool, full-circle experience that I won’t forget.”

Willett does not view the pandemic as an experience that negatively affected his medical career; instead, it made him more prepared for the next steps of his medical journey.

“I feel academically and clinically equipped to work as a physician, and feel like I have a unique mindset and attributes that will help me be effective at the next institution I join during residency,” said Willett, “I have learned and grown so much throughout my time at ULSOM and am forever thankful for the community of friends and mentors that have prepared me to enter into this next stage of my life and career.”

The University of Louisville School of Medicine holds deep admiration for the unwavering resilience and dedication demonstrated by our medical students throughout the challenges of the pandemic and the subsequent return to in-person learning. We are in awe of the accomplishments achieved by the class of 2024 as they continue their journey in the medical field. We look forward to seeing the remarkable contributions each graduate will make to the advancement of healthcare in our world.

Class of 2024 Graduation Live-Stream

Growing on her roots: UofL School of Medicine graduate Caitlan Jones hopes to practice close to her rural hometown

Posted by UofL News on May 1, 2024
Growing on her roots: UofL School of Medicine graduate Caitlan Jones hopes to practice close to her rural hometown

Caitlan Jones will graduate from UofL School of Medicine on May 11 and continue her training at the UofL Owensboro Family Medicine Residency Program. UofL photo.

Muhlenberg County native Caitlan Jones is completing medical school in the hospital where she was born in Madisonville, Kentucky.

Jones is part of the University of Louisville School of Medicine’s Trover Rural Track, based at Baptist Health Deaconess Madisonville, which offers students the opportunity to complete medical school in a small community.

It has been a perfect fit for Jones, who will receive her medical degree on May 11 from the UofL School of Medicine and hopes to practice in a rural community.


Caitlan Jones, 2024 School of Medicine graduate, with her husband, Christian. UofL photo.
Caitlan Jones, 2024 School of Medicine graduate, with her husband, Christian. UofL photo.


“I want to practice wide-spectrum family medicine in Western Kentucky. I like the community clinics and small towns,” Jones said. “My husband is from Owensboro and we both like our families, so we want to stay in Western Kentucky.”

Physicians are badly needed in rural areas of the commonwealth, where many communities are medically underserved.

“If you look on a map of health professional shortage areas, almost all of Western Kentucky is blocked out. They don’t have enough of anything,” Jones said.

Jones, who grew up on a farm with her three siblings, is grateful for her down-to-earth upbringing.

“I was raised by a great set of parents. My dad has made an impressive career in the coal mines, runs the family farm and in his little spare time he is a volunteer firefighter,” Jones said. “I am outgoing and talkative just like my dad, but I don’t think I could ever be as hardworking. My mom works as a bookkeeper, taught us about Jesus and was very involved in our education.”

She also is inspired by her parents’ generosity in the community.

“Seeing how hard my parents worked and how involved they were in communities was enough for me to say I want to come back somewhere similar to home and be involved in that same way.”

Jones sees medicine as a perfect way for her to be involved.

“I like that it’s challenging, I’m always reading and learning and problem solving,” she said. “I also think there is a gap in medicine. I have a really strong faith and I think you miss that a lot in the medical community—doctors that pray and believe in healing and the other side that so many patients also do. So, filling that gap is a big part of why I am in medicine. I want to love others.”

After being introduced to Trover as an undergraduate at Murray State University, Jones spent a summer participating in the Trover Campus Rural Scholars Program. That experience sealed her decision to practice rural medicine.

“I was offered acceptance at four medical school programs, but I chose UofL largely because of the great experience I had in undergrad at the Trover Campus,” Jones said.


Caitlan Jones and William Crump, associate dean of Trover Campus at the UofL School of Medicine. Students can spend part of medical school in Madisonville, Ky. preparing to practice in a small community. UofL photo.
Caitlan Jones and William Crump, associate dean of Trover Campus at the UofL School of Medicine. Students can spend part of medical school in Madisonville, Ky. preparing to practice in a small community. UofL photo.


Although she did part of her training in Louisville, Jones likes the environment in Madisonville, which provided more one-on-one time with attending physicians.

“I see people all the time I know. It’s different to be somewhere you know people but also, it’s a different feeling from a big university hospital,” Jones said. “People know my parents or I know people’s parents, so it’s a different level of connection.” 

Jones will reach her goal a year sooner than most medical students thanks to Trover’s Rural Medicine Accelerated Track (RMAT), a program allowing students who intend to practice in a rural Kentucky community to finish medical school in three years rather than the typical four.

Jones and Bradley Watson, the 2024 graduates of the RMAT, are completing the program a decade after the first graduate finished in 2014. Jones and Watson also both were awarded the 2023 Anthem Medicaid Rural Medicine Scholarship, which supports RMAT students.

In July, Jones will begin residency training at the UofL Owensboro Family Medicine Residency Program.

It doesn’t really feel real,” she said. “I am finishing a year early so it doesn’t feel like I’ve been doing it that long. But I’m really excited to see what comes next.”

Watch the video:

UofL researchers honored for groundbreaking study linking cancer and kidney disease

Posted by UofL News on May 1, 2024
UofL researchers honored for groundbreaking study linking cancer and kidney disease

Mass spectrometry image of a kidney showing changes characteristic of chronic kidney disease. (Photo by Dana Hammouri)

A team of researchers at the University of Louisville has been honored for their pioneering work in uncovering a new connection between cancer treatment and kidney disease.

Their award-winning study, named Paper of the Year by the American Journal of Physiology, sheds light on the heightened risk of kidney complications in cancer patients undergoing treatment. The study revealed that cancer itself may harm the kidneys, but that damage and scarring is intensified when patients take cisplatin, a commonly used chemotherapy drug. 

“Everything in your body is connected, from your internal systems to the medications we take,” said Andrew Orwick, lead author and recent doctoral graduate in pharmacology and toxicology.

Orwick’s doctoral research in the laboratory of researchers Leah Siskind and in collaboration with Levi Beverly, both from the UofL School of Medicine and Brown Cancer Center, examined the interplay of cisplatin and lung cancer, which is highly prevalent in Kentucky.

“By better understanding what those interactions are and how they happen,” he said, “we can take them into consideration and improve outcomes for the patient.”

Ultimately, that could lead to new diagnostics, more effective drugs and treatment plans that better consider the patient’s overall health and avoid or limit kidney damage.

Chronic damage to the kidneys can cause nausea, vomiting, fatigue, high blood pressure and even death, without transplant or dialysis. Because symptoms progress slowly, patients may not notice the condition until its advanced stages. Even so, current testing methods are difficult and invasive.

The UofL researchers think their work could help clinicians better predict not only which patients will react negatively to cisplatin and other chemotherapy drugs, but also identify potential kidney problems early. The goal is to better understand the underlying mechanisms and biomarkers, so clinicians can make more informed decisions.

“Obviously, addressing the cancer is first and foremost, but if we can do that while also preserving the patient’s overall health and feeling of health, that’s optimal,” said Siskind, a professor and senior author on the study. “The great news is that the fact that we’re even having this conversation means we’re making progress in solving cancer — we’re considering not only life, but the quality of that life.”

Siskind said the paper represents a paradigm shift in how researchers think about and treat both cancer and kidney disease. As it stands, no treatment for this form of kidney disease has made it past a phase 2 clinical trial or been approved for use in patients. This research could also help inform better drugs and experiments to fill that need. 

That innovative thinking and broad impact is likely part of why this work was selected as Paper of the Year, said Jon Klein, interim executive vice president for research and innovation.

“Being selected for this honor is a massive accomplishment and underpins the immense value of the research being done by this team and across UofL,” Klein said. “This is work that truly can save and improve lives.” 

Scientists can now better document health benefits of time spent in nature

Posted by UofL News on April 22, 2024
Scientists can now better document health benefits of time spent in nature

Leafy branches frame the entrance to Grawemeyer Hall on UofL’s Belknap Campus. UofL photo.

Many people enjoy spending time in nature, basking in the peaceful atmosphere of forests, parks and green spaces. It is widely believed that exposure to plants and trees improves physical and mental wellbeing, and living in areas with an abundant tree canopy is associated with better health. But can these health benefits be proven scientifically?

A new discovery at the University of Louisville may help scientists test the effects of exposure to green plants “greenness” on health. Pawel Lorkiewicz, associate professor of chemistry and environmental medicine at UofL’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, measured a person’s exposure to trees and plants by testing their urine.

Limonene is a nontoxic substance emitted into the air by many trees and plants. Concentrated limonene has a lemony smell and is used in perfumes, foods, cleaning and other household products. When a person breathes concentrated limonene, the body breaks it down into metabolites which can be measured in their urine.

These metabolites also are in a person’s urine after they spend time in a forest, according to Rachel Keith, associate professor at the Envirome Institute who conducted the study. This means the metabolites can be used to measure a person’s exposure to trees and plants. Comparing this exposure with health information may help researchers more accurately determine whether time spent in nature is beneficial for an individual’s health.

“Even though we may not smell limonene exactly, usually we can tell that we are surrounded by trees and greenness because of the smell. Parks and forests, or even meadows or larger green spaces have a characteristic smell because of plant volatile organic compounds such as limonene,” Lorkiewicz said.

For several years, Envirome Institute researchers have been studying the health effects of living near trees and greenness. As part of the Green Heart Project, they planted trees and shrubs in specific neighborhoods, measuring changes in the residents’ health compared with those living in areas with fewer trees. But the researchers found it challenging to accurately measure an individual’s actual exposure to trees. There may be many trees where they live, but they spend much of their time working in tree-sparse locations or indoors, insulated from trees and plants.

So the team searched for a way to measure how much time an individual spent around greenness. Because many trees and plants release significant amounts of limonene into the air, they developed a method to test for limonene exposure using urine, which is easy to collect.


A student amid trees on UofL’s Belknap Campus. UofL photo.
A student amid trees on UofL’s Belknap Campus. UofL photo.


After testing the urine of people who smelled pure limonene from a vial, they compared those results with urine from people who spent time walking in a forest. They found the same metabolites in the urine of both groups, tagging three of them as reliable biomarkers of exposure to greenness.

“It was very exciting. That’s what constitutes a biomarker, something was released by trees in real life, metabolized by our bodies and found in our urine, not just the result of smelling a pure chemical in a lab,” Lorkiewicz said. “So, we objectively can tell when someone is not working in an office at a desk, but they actually go outside and are surrounded by greenness.”

Keith said the biomarker for greenness exposure is a breakthrough for the Green Heart Project, the Trager MicroForest project in downtown Louisville and other studies.

“We have been working with the overall premise that trees affect health in a positive way. Our mission in the Green Heart Project is to understand in some ways how they do that,” she said. “We have turned to the idea of using the human as the biomonitor of greenness in the human. We hope to use this to see changes in people’s overall exposure to greenness as we plant trees and determine whether those changes correlate to changes in health.”

To assess people’s exposure to trees and plants, Keith combines the limonene biomarker test with satellite images showing tree density where people live and surveys of their time spent outdoors and compares the exposure information with health data such as blood pressure and heart rate.

In additional research, Keith and her team are using the biomarker to compare the health effects of limonene and other compounds emitted by plants on the body.

Interim Dean Bumpous named President of ABOHNS

Posted on April 19, 2024
Interim Dean Bumpous named President of ABOHNS

Interim Dean Jeffrey Bumpous, MD

The University of Louisville School of Medicine is proud to announce the appointment of interim dean Jeffrey Bumpous, MD, to president of the American Board of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery (ABOHNS).

The president of the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (ABOHNS) holds a vital position within the organization, tasked with overseeing various facets of board operations, growth, and mission fulfillment. In this role, Bumpous will play a key role in leading the certification processes, which encompasses primary certification in the specialty, subspecialty certifications, focused practice designations, and continuous certification. This includes working with executive leadership and committee chairs to develop examination materials, organize assessments, and review credentials and ethics issues.

Bumpous is working with the board on significant enhancements to the primary certification process by incorporating additional peer review and an oral exam based on physicians' own cases in practice. The goal is to execute this process in a fair, equitable, meaningful, and efficient manner, thereby upholding public confidence and trust in the board. The board has a newly published strategic plan which aligns with its mission, vision, and core purpose; Bumpous hopes to embrace these strategic initiatives and drive positive initiatives within ABOHNS to advance its commitment to professional excellence and public trust.

The impact Bumpous hopes to have on ABOHNS is deeply rooted in the organization's rich history and commitment to serving the public. Entering its 100th year as a medical board, the organization remains dedicated to evolving with the medical landscape, embracing advancements such as technology, artificial intelligence, and changing practice models. By adopting a forward-thinking approach as outlined in its Strategic Plan, ABOHNS aims to uphold its core values while adapting to contemporary practices to ensure the delivery of high-quality healthcare services to the public.

“We aim to be innovative in how we adapt with the changing medical landscape and how that applies to the practice of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery,” said interim dean Jeffrey Bumpous, “It is an honor to get to be a part of leading that charge.”

The American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery serves a critical role in the healthcare ecosystem by prioritizing the needs of the public above all else. Unlike many trade organizations that focus on promoting specialties or professionals, ABOHNS places a strong emphasis on serving the recipients of healthcare. The organization is committed to providing accessible, safe, caring, and effective healthcare services to individuals relying on its expertise. By maintaining a steadfast focus on patient welfare, ABOHNS demonstrates its unwavering dedication to upholding the highest standards of medical practice.

Read more on the ABOHNS and dean Bumpous’s appointment on the ABOHNS website.

University of Louisville Medical Students Crowned 2024 Derby Princess and Queen

Posted on April 18, 2024
University of Louisville Medical Students Crowned 2024 Derby Princess and Queen

ULSOM students, Ankita Nair and Sarah Downs, part of the KDF Royal Court 2024

The Kentucky Derby Festival Royal Court, a prestigious tradition in the state of Kentucky, not only emphasizes the glamour and elegance associated with the revered Kentucky Derby but also symbolizes a commitment to community engagement and personal growth. Two medical students from the University of Louisville School of Medicine were named Derby Princesses for the 2024 Kentucky Derby Festival. Ankita Nair, a third-year medical student, and Sarah Downs, a second-year medical student, were selected to represent the commonwealth.

The role of a Derby Princess embodies a unique blend of community engagement, tradition, and personal growth. Nair and Downs are both proud Kentucky natives and exemplify a deep-rooted connection to their community by embracing the rich traditions of the Kentucky Derby Festival.

Nair, a proud California-Kentuckian, embodies a strong connection to her roots, having divided her life between Louisville and San Diego. Her passion for community service and promoting preventative health initiatives shines through her involvement in the Kentucky Derby Festival. As a previous competitor in Miss Kentucky, she leverages her platform to educate and promote healthy lifestyle habits through her initiative "Let's Live Kentucky." Moreover, her involvement as a medical student demonstrates a holistic approach to her future career, combining academic pursuits with a deep commitment to community well-being.

Similarly, Downs believes being a Derby Princess allows her to serve her community and develop robust communication skills essential for her career as a physician. Her eagerness to connect with individuals from diverse backgrounds reflects in her understanding of others' stories and perspectives. Downs aspires to be a bridge between the local community and the global visitors who converge upon Kentucky during the Derby festivities.

Both Nair and Downs demonstrate a keen understanding of the significance of their roles as Derby Princesses. Their enthusiasm for the program is palpable as they share their eagerness to connect with people across various neighborhoods, support community initiatives, and contribute to the greater celebrations of Kentucky's traditions. Nair’s desire to engage with local businesses, volunteer in the West End, and bring attention to the diverse festivities symbolizes a deep commitment to community engagement. Similarly, Downs’s focus on impacting Kentucky’s youth and instilling in them the belief of pursuing one's dreams illustrates her dedication to inspiring and uplifting the next generation.

The experiences and aspirations of Nair and Downs exemplify the transformative impact of the Derby Princess role on their personal and professional development. Nair highlights how the role has equipped her with valuable time management, public speaking, and civic leadership skills, crucial for achieving a balance between professional endeavors and community engagement. Conversely, Downs emphasizes the role's contribution to refining her empathy and organizational skills, essential qualities for her future as a physician.

The attachment of Downs to the Kentucky Derby Festival, and her admiration for the Fillies and the Festival organizers, underlines the profound impact of these institutions on the social, cultural, and historical fabric of Kentucky. “We have some of the richest traditions here in our state and I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to experience these traditions firsthand,” said Downs.

Nair’s admiration for the historical traditions of the Derby Festival highlights the significance of these organizations in uplifting the community and preserving Kentucky's traditions. “We started the Kentucky Derby 150 years ago and while many things have changed, the Derby continues to be a constant symbol of the rich history of Kentucky,” said Nair. “The Derby reminds me we have the grandson of Lewis and Clark to thank for the first running; that agriculture and horse farming have been and will always be something to be proud of; that steamboats like the Belle of Louisville tell the story of how Louisville came to be: first as a port city for Westward Expansion and now as a global UPS hub. The Kentucky Derby is a meaningful event that quintessentially shows our home to the rest of the world and is also something that we cherish here locally with all our festival events and traditions.”

As dedicated medical students and future healthcare professionals, they embody the essence of holistic engagement, combining academic pursuits with a commitment to community service and cultural celebration. Their dedication to embracing the Kentucky Derby Festival's traditions and uplifting the local community resonates as a testament to the enduring legacy of the Derby Princess program and its impact on shaping future leaders and advocates for social good.

The University of Louisville School of Medicine is proud of both Nair and Downs’ commitment to their academic pursuits and community engagement. Congratulations to Ankita Nair on being named the Derby Queen for the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby!

UofL scientists gain $11.6 million to study effects of chemical exposures on heart

Posted by UofL News April 12, 2024
UofL scientists gain $11.6 million to study effects of chemical exposures on heart

UofL researchers are working to better understand how pollutants and other factors affect heart health. UofL illustration.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, but scientists still do not understand all the factors that affect heart health.

University of Louisville environmental medicine researchers are working to better understand how natural, social and personal environments affect health, particularly the cardiovascular system. In recent months, the National Institutes of Health have awarded four grants totaling $11.6 million to researchers affiliated with UofL’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute to study factors affecting heart health. Through these projects, they hope to better understand how environmental exposures and tobacco products can affect the cardiovascular system, as well as how remodeling takes place in the heart after a heart attack.

“The unique and synergistic research collaborative we have built at the Envirome Institute already has resulted in new discoveries about the biological and the environmental factors that contribute to heart disease,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, chief of the UofL Division of Environmental Medicine and director of the Envirome Institute. “Our studies funded by these new grants will lead to better understanding of the causes and progression of cardiovascular disease and new ways to protect and improve cardiovascular health.”

The new projects address the cardiovascular effects of newly introduced ingredients in electronic cigarette liquids, exposure to benzene, prenatal and infant exposure to combinations of substances and their impact on sleep in adolescence and the metabolic processes occurring after a heart attack that result in scarring in the heart.

One grant provides $3.3 million to investigate how exposure to benzene affects blood vessels. Sanjay Srivastava, professor of medicine who leads the project, said preliminary research shows that benzene worsens atherosclerosis, an underlying cause of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty deposits in arteries, reduces blood flow and flexibility of the arteries. Benzene is one of the top 20 pollutants from industrial sources in the United States, primarily from gasoline refineries. Outside industrial locations, exposure is higher near gas stations and from automobile exhaust and cigarette smoke. Benzene is known to cause cancer, but this is the first study to evaluate the effects of the chemical on heart disease, especially at levels typically experienced in the environment.

Cardiac fibrosis is essential for upholding the structure of the heart after heart attack, but also tends to produce excessive scar tissue and stiffening of the heart. Bradford Hill is examining the processes behind stiffening and scarring in the heart following myocardial infarction. A $2.3 million grant is funding the professor of medicine’s work to investigate the metabolic processes underlying this process. Hill hopes the work will lead to a therapy that supports the repair process but also reduces excessive scarring, allowing heart attack patients to fare better down the road.

Clara Sears, assistant professor of environmental medicine, received a $2.1 million grant for a project to discover how exposure to mixtures of common chemicals and pollutants before birth and in infancy affects sleep health in adolescence. Ultimately, she hopes to understand whether exposures to phthalates (common components of plastics), metals and per-/polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS – known as “forever chemicals”) may be linked to cardiovascular issues later in life.

The largest of the grants, $3.9 million, will fund research into potential toxicity of new synthetic cooling compounds that are being used in electronic cigarette liquids. Daniel J. Conklin leads the project to learn whether these compounds are harmful to the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems when heated and inhaled. The compounds mimic the cooling effect of menthol, which can be irritating in high doses, but they have not been tested for safety or toxicity as inhaled substances. For this new project, Conklin, a professor of medicine who has studied the cardiovascular effects of e-cigarette and cigarette components for more than two decades, is testing the effects of the new constituents as well as documenting the impact of dual use – smoking conventional cigarettes along with vaping. The Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products will use the results of these studies to determine potential recommendations to regulate the products’ use.

“We are going to address the issue of dual use, where there are both cigarettes and e-cigarettes in use, because this is a very common phenomenon and the signals are coming that it’s actually worse than either one alone,” Conklin said.

UofL researchers win $1M to advance spinal cord injury technology

Posted by UofL News on April 4, 2024
UofL researchers win $1M to advance spinal cord injury technology

Spinal cord therapy research participant Jeff Marquis stands during therapy. Photo by Jessica Ebelhar.

University of Louisville researchers and their collaborators have won a Phase 2 prize in a $9.8 million National Institutes of Health innovation competition aimed at helping spinal cord injury patients regain function.

The four Phase 2 winners in the NIH’s Neuromod Prize competition each will receive $1 million, technical assistance and other resources to accelerate the development for neuromodulation therapies — those aimed at stimulating the nervous system to improve function and treat a range of conditions. At UofL, researchers are using these therapies to help patients with paralysis restore functions they may otherwise never have again.

“This technology holds enormous potential for people living with paralysis resulting from spinal cord injury,” said Susan Harkema, a UofL professor, researcher and lead on the Neuromod Prize project. “Our research so far, and the progress we will make supported by this new funding, could dramatically improve all aspects of their daily lives, from movement to cardiovascular function.”

The project team includes UofL Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center researchers Harkema and Charles Hubscher, working in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Medtronic and long-time clinical translational research partner, the Kessler Foundation. Together, they will develop a novel communication and analysis system, called StimXS, that integrates sensor information to both stabilize blood pressure and improve respiratory and bladder function.

This builds on past work and technology developed by UofL researchers, who have used neuromodulation to target and improve a range of health effects resulting from spinal cord injury, including cardiac, respiratory and bladder function and even the ability to walk — something previously thought to be impossible. To target these functions, the researchers use an implantable stimulation device that can send electrical signals to select areas of the spinal cord.

“With this new Phase 2 Neuromod funding, we can take a major step toward advancing this technology for broad use in patients,” said Hubscher, professor and co-director of the KSCIRC. “We’ve seen great results in the lab, but the true impact of this technology will be when it’s in a clinical setting and helping the people who need it most.”

This work has also been supported by several public and private sponsors, such as the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, the Helmsley Charitable Trust and multiple grants from the NIH. As part of the Neuromod Prize, Phase 2 winners will be exclusively invited to participate in Phase 3, which will have a total potential prize pool of $5 million.  

“This is truly game-changing research with the power to improve lives,” said Jon Klein, UofL’s interim executive vice president for research and innovation. “I applaud the research team for their success in driving this important work forward and am excited to see them translate this for broad use in patients.”

The Neuromod Prize is part of the NIH Common Fund’s Stimulating Peripheral Activity to Relieve Conditions (SPARC) program, which is making critical progress to help accelerate the development of neuromodulation therapies, close fundamental knowledge gaps, and offer tools that enable open science and innovation through the SPARC Portal.

UofL medical students unveil the next step in their training

Posted March 18, 2024
UofL medical students unveil the next step in their training

University of Louisville School of Medicine fourth-year medical students had a lot to celebrate March 15th for Match Day. The highlight of Match Day is when prospective medical residents open their envelopes from the National Residency Match Program to discover where they have been matched for their future training as residents.

The Match is conducted annually by the NRMP and uses a computerized algorithm that aligns the preferences of applicants with the preferences of residency programs. These results are then used to fill thousands of training positions all throughout the United States.

“I am deeply pleased with this talented class of future residents and wish them all the best of luck in their pursuits wherever they matched.” said Jeffrey Bumpous, MD, interim dean for the School of Medicine.

This year’s Match Day was held at Angel’s Envy Bourbon Club at L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium. The event was attended by approximately 600 people excited to see where our future residents would match.

“Match Day marks a pivotal milestone,” said Umair Bhutto, 2024 class president. “It is a real testament to our hard work, and we now stand on the threshold of our futures. I am grateful I get to witness my peers as they discover where they will be during the next step in their medical journey.”

Congratulations to all our medical students who matched on match day! The University of Louisville School of Medicine is so proud and wishes you all the best of luck in your future endeavors both in medical residency and in your future careers.

Visit the photo gallery to view images from the event.

Age-Friendly Louisville: Building Inclusive Communities

Posted March 11, 2024

Age-Friendly Louisville (AFL) continues its mission to create an inclusive city for individuals of all ages and abilities. Led in partnership since 2016 by Louisville Metro Government, AARP Kentucky, KIPDA, and the UofL Trager Institute, AFL's efforts span various domains, from infrastructure and health services to social connections. AFL is in the process of drafting its 2024 – 2027 Strategic Plan within the new domain workgroups, focusing on Housing, Social Inclusion, and Outdoor Enhancement.

2024 Kickoff Event

AFL recently hosted its Kickoff Event on January 25th, reintroducing the new workgroup domains and inviting community participation. Workgroup meetings are held monthly at the Edison Center, providing residents with opportunities to shape AFL's future through engaging discussions and advocacy efforts. Join Us!

New Domains

Housing: Creating age-friendly, multigenerational communities and enhancing accessibility to home modifications.

Social Inclusion: Promoting accessible and affordable social activities, celebrating community diversity, and fostering collaboration.

Outdoor Enhancement: Improving public spaces, promoting mobility, and ensuring safer streets.

UofL researcher connecting the dots between pollution exposure in infancy and sleep health in adolescence

Posted by UL News on March 6, 2024
UofL researcher connecting the dots between pollution exposure in infancy and sleep health in adolescence

Clara Sears, assistant professor and researcher in UofL’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, is working to understand how exposure to pollutants before birth and in infancy affects sleep health in adolescence. UofL photo.

Clara Sears is fascinated by sleep. Quality sleep is essential to support growth and development and many adolescents in the U.S. are not getting enough.

“Everyone sleeps and it’s fascinating to me. We know so little about sleep scientifically that it really piqued my interest, and my project is right at the intersection of cardiovascular health and neurodevelopment, so it is kind of the perfect niche for my interest,” said Sears, assistant professor of environmental medicine, a researcher in the University of Louisville’s Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute and a UofL alumna.

Sears is leading a project to discover how exposure to mixtures of common chemicals and pollutants during gestation and infancy affects sleep health in adolescence. Ultimately, she believes the exposures may be linked to cardiovascular issues later in life. Her work is part of research at the Envirome Institute to understand the relationships between the environment and human health.

“Sleep is increasingly recognized to be central to cardiovascular health. We know that a variety of lifestyle choices and environmental factors affect sleep, but we know little about the effects of chemical exposure and pollutants,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, professor of medicine and director the Envirome Institute. “Clara's work could provide new knowledge about factors that affect sleep, particularly in adolescents, so that we can improve their quality of sleep and future cardiovascular health.”

Sears’ team is examining exposure to combinations of phthalates (common components of plastics), metals and per-/polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS – known as “forever chemicals”). People are frequently exposed to these toxicants through their diet, as well as use of consumer goods and household products. Sears said they chose to study mixtures rather than individual chemicals because most people in the U.S. are exposed to them in combination.

“We know pregnant women and children are exposed to these chemicals in mixtures and sometimes they can affect similar biological pathways, or they can interact in ways that may magnify an effect on a health outcome,” Sears said. “So, if we study them in isolation, it is hard to get the real-world relevance of how they interact with each other to affect health.”

The work is funded by a five-year, $2.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to determine whether there are connections between these early exposures and poor sleep quality and increases in allostatic load in adolescents. Allostatic load is the cumulative burden of “wear and tear” on the body resulting from stressors that eventually can disrupt an individual’s immune, cardiovascular and metabolic functions. A person’s allostatic load can be assessed through biomarkers and other measures such as inflammation and body composition.

Sears is working with experts in pediatric environmental health, sleep and cardiometabolic health to analyze data from two long-term studies that track prenatal and early life exposures and other health information. The Health Outcomes and Measures of the Environment Study and the Maternal-Infant Research on Environmental Chemicals Study have documented exposures and other health measures in more than 550 children from before birth through pre-teen and teen years, along with sleep health in adolescence.

Sears hopes the study will lead to understanding the link between early life environmental factors and cardiovascular health later in life, informing efforts to improve the environment for infants and children so that they can be healthier into adulthood.

“Sleep impacts every aspect of your health and your day-to-day functioning, so if we can find ways to improve sleep it can have huge impacts on health overall.”


See previous sleep research from the Envirome Institute: Reduced sleep linked to environmental factors | UofL News