FY 2019 Extramural Research Program Highlights: Investigator-Initiated Research
The NIOSH extramural research program supports relevant, high-quality scientific investigations that help reduce work-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. These awards include funding for large projects (R01) as well as small projects (R03) and exploratory research grants (R21).
You can also find the information on this page in the NIOSH Extramural Research and Training Program: Annual Report of Fiscal Year 2019.
The R01 funding opportunity focuses on developing an understanding of the risks and conditions associated with job-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. These projects also explore methods to reduce risks and prevent or lessen exposure to hazardous workplace conditions. The R03 funding mechanism supports research projects that can be completed in 2 years with limited resources, including pilot and feasibility studies, secondary analysis of existing data, and small, self-contained research projects. The R21 mechanism encourages research to explore novel scientific ideas or develop new techniques, methods, model systems, tools, or other applications with the potential for significant impact on work-related safety and health.
The extramural research portfolio also includes mentored research scientist development (K01) awards that offer postdoctoral training for the next generation of occupational safety and health scientists. These highly competitive K01 awards give up to 3 years of funding and a scientific research focus designed to develop the skills and productivity of new research scientists as they transition between postdoctoral training and independent research careers.
NIOSH awards conference and scientific meeting grants under two research grant mechanisms: R13 and U13. Both grants support high quality, scientific conferences/ meetings relevant to the safety and health of workers, including symposia, seminars, and workshops
The mission of NIOSH is to develop new knowledge in the field of occupational safety and health and then transfer it to practice. The extramural research program advances this mission through its research. This work helps in identifying workers at risk, developing methods for measuring hazard exposures, and detecting adverse health effects. The program also helps in determining the frequency of job-related hazards, increasing understanding of the causes of work-related diseases and injuries, and reducing or eliminating hazard exposures. Grantees share research results through diverse communication channels, including scientific meetings, conferences, and workshops.
Investigator-initiated research outputs are the products of research activities and include publications. We collected publications by NIOSH-funded extramural researchers from principal investigator reports to NIOSH, the NIH Reporter database, the NIOSHTIC-2 database, and the PubMed database. From October 1, 2018, through September 30, 2019, R01 grant-funded researchers published 90 articles in peer-reviewed journals. The numbers of peer-reviewed publications for the other investigator-initiated research mechanisms are 6 (R03), 1 (R13), 10 (R21), and 12 (K01). Find a searchable database of NIOSH publications, which includes grantee final reports and publications, by using the NIOSHTIC-2 publications search.
Combined Tools Estimate Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Risk
Project Title: Developing a General Population Job Exposure Matrix for Studies of Work-related MSD (R01 Grant).
Principal Investigator: Bradley Evanoff
Estimating the risk of exposure to safety and health hazards is critical to preventing work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. Exposure data can be difficult and expensive to get, making it hard to connect illnesses and injuries to specific tasks. An efficient way to assess risks is with a job exposure matrix (JEM), which estimates individual workers’ exposures based on their job titles or tasks.
Rather than measuring individual workers’ exposures, a JEM focuses on large groups of workers across multiple industries and occupations. Because of the tool’s relatively low cost and ability to estimate past exposures, interest is growing in using it to estimate risk for common musculoskeletal disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). This painful disorder of the hands and wrists can occur with tasks involving repetitive or awkward motions.
To test whether a JEM effectively estimates CTS risk, and to examine the association of exposure estimates from different countries, a recent NIOSH-funded study at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis compared the U.S. O*NET, with more than 800 occupations, and the French CONSTANCES, with more than 400 occupations—see the journal article below under Details. Researchers then compared the findings to actual CTS cases among 2,393 U.S. workers who participated in a previous NIOSH study of musculoskeletal disorders.
O*NET was comparable to individual worker reports in predicting the CTS risks of certain tasks, while CONSTANCES was slightly less accurate, according to the study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health. However, combined estimates—using exposures from both tools or exposures from either tool combined with individual worker reports—were the most accurate predictors of CTS. These findings show that combined tools like JEMs, including international ones, can help pinpoint risks for common musculoskeletal disorders and can allow studies of large worker populations where other exposure information is unavailable.
- Applying Two General Population Job Exposure Matrices to Predict Incident Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Cross-National Approach to Improve Estimation of Workplace Physical Exposuresexternal icon
- Better Together: Combined Tools Estimate Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Risk
New Cost-effective Technology for Assessing Workplace Exposures
Project Title: A Citizen-Science Approach to Occupational Hazard Assessment (R01Grant).
Principal Investigator: John Volckens
Assessing workers’ exposure to occupational safety and health hazards has limitations such as cost and technological constraints, among other factors. These challenges make it difficult to identify workers at risk for overexposure to various hazards, like air pollutants, and can hinder workplace epidemiology studies, leading to imprecise data analysis.
Researchers at Colorado State University at Fort Collins aim to develop a new, cost effective technology that will effectively assess workers’ exposure to air pollutants. Scientists expect for this wearable exposure monitor to be inexpensive, easy to use with minimal instruction, and measure potentially up to hundreds of different airborne compounds. Employees will wear the device, allowing them to become more involved in recognizing hazards and exposure assessment. In FY 2019, researchers started designing a protype for the monitor (called the “Airpen”) and submitted a patent application for this technology. The monitor is expected to allow greater sample sizes for personal exposure measurements, and result in better hazard control on the job, more powerful epidemiology, and improved worker health.
- Wearable Air Pollution Monitors to Record What Workers Are Breathing to Be Developed at CSUexternal icon
The Long-term Effects of Shift Work for Pregnant Workers and Their Children
Project Title: Adverse Health Effects of Shift Work (R01 Grant).
Principal Investigator: Eva Schernhammer
In the United States, 15 million workers have either full-time evening or night shifts, rotating shifts, or other irregular work schedules outside of traditional daytime hours. For women, past research has linked long hours and this type of shift work to reproductive issues like menstrual disorders, miscarriages, and premature birth. Women who work nights or long hours often lack enough sleep, and night work can alter their circadian rhythm or internal biological clock that regulates sleep. The circadian rhythm also regulates the menstrual cycle and pregnancy hormones. But while there is research on how shift work impacts the reproductive system, what happens to the children of women who did shift work before and while pregnant with them? NIOSH-funded researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital aimed to find out by studying these children’s health outcomes as they age.
The scientists used data from two prior studies: (1) the second phase of a long-standing Nurses’ Health Study, called Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II), which focused on risk factors and chronic disease in female nurses, and (2) the Growing Up Today Study, which focused on the health behaviors and outcomes of children born to NHS II participants. Researchers analyzed data for varied connections, including the association between women who worked the night shift before and after pregnancy and risks of depression and anxiety in their adolescent and young adult children. They also investigated the link between night shift work and the women’s adolescent children’s response to stress, as well as their risk of developing atopic diseases like dermatitis, asthma, and hay fever.
While research findings did not show a link between women working at night before or during pregnancy and atopic diseases in their offspring, scientists found this type of work arrangement influenced stress levels, among young adult children.
These and other research findings from this project have potential implications for organizational policies and practices related to work schedules for pregnant women. The research findings have been presented at multiple conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals including the European Journal of Epidemiology, Physiology & Behavior, PLoS One, and the International Journal of Obesity.
- Adverse Health Effects of Shift Workexternal icon
- Night Shift Work Before and During Pregnancy in Relation to Depression and Anxiety in Adolescent and Young Adult Offspringexternal icon
- Maternal Rotating Night Shift Work Before Pregnancy and Offspring Stress Markersexternal icon
- Night Shift Work Surrounding Pregnancy and Offspring Risk of Atopic Diseaseexternal icon
- NIOSH: Work Schedule (Shift Work and Long Working Hours)
Germ-fighting Fabric Developed for Healthcare Settings
Project Title: Rechargeable Antimicrobial Textiles to Reduce Occupational Risk of Healthcare Personnel (R21 Grant).
Principal Investigator: Yuyu Sun
Healthcare workers face a high risk of contact with infectious agents that can cause infections and diseases, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites. To address this issue, scientists at the University of Massachusetts Lowell developed a germ-killing fabric that could possibly prevent the spread of communicable diseases for workers in the healthcare field.
To achieve this, researchers embedded a germ-killing agent called N-halamine into fabrics used for hospital garments, such as scrubs, worn by healthcare workers and patients. Preliminary findings show N-halamine in fabrics is effective in destroying Escherichia coli, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Staphylococcus aureus, Candida albicans, and other disease-causing pathogens.
Researchers tested the effectiveness of the germ-killing agent in fabrics using different simulated conditions like those seen in healthcare, and the researchers found that the treated fabric destroyed germs within 15 minutes in three types of soils. In addition, for situations when the N-halamine levels on fabric become low, researchers are working on ways to renew its effectiveness through a bleach solution. Testing on the fabric will continue in the future to see how it protects against other disease-causing pathogens.
- Scientists Invent Germ-Fighting Fabric for Health Careexternal icon
- Rechargeable Antimicrobial Textiles to Reduce Occupational Risk of Healthcare Personnelexternal icon
- Healthcare Workers: Infectious Agents
Characterizing Worker Exposure to Influenza D From Cattle
Project Title: Epidemiologic and Genomic Evaluation of Influenza D Among Cattle Workers and Their Community (K01 Grant).
Principal Investigator: Jessica Liebler
Livestock workers are at significant risk of exposure to infectious diseases through contact with animals, including pigs, poultry, and cattle. In particular, research shows that influenza D (IDV) has been found in pigs and other animals, although the virus mainly exists in cattle in several countries, including the United States. This fairly novel influenza virus first emerged in 2011 in the United States. According to studies, IDV can cause mild to moderate respiratory disease in cows and is linked to bovine respiratory disease complex—the costliest disease in the U.S. cattle industry. However, it is not known if cattle are a potential source of IDV infection for humans. NIOSH-funded researchers at Boston University have a study focused on this topic.
These scientists are investigating past and recent IDV infection among cattle workers, those they live with, and their community residents in a U.S. region with many cattle. Researchers aim to characterize the infections, along with risk factors and the health outcomes of IDV in humans. The future findings from this study could help identify strategies to enhance surveillance of workers and protect them from IDV. This research could also have potential relevance to other zoonotic infections from viruses or bacteria.