UM Researcher Awarded Early Career Fellowship by Gulf Research Program

Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, D.O., Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of public health sciences and Director of the Musculoskeletal Disorders and Occupational Health Lab, was recently awarded a highly competitive two-year early career fellowship by the Gulf Research Program of the National Academy of Sciences. He will examine the impact of exposure to oil and dispersant products on human health effects, such as musculoskeletal disorders among first responders, clean-up workers and volunteers at the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

This early-career research fellowship recognizes professionals at the critical pre-tenure phase of their careers for exceptional leadership, past performance and potential for future contributions to improving oil system safety, human health and the environment in the Gulf region. The fellowship, said Caban-Martinez, will allow him to collaborate with a team of interdisciplinary scientists working at the intersection of human health and the environment.

The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and resulting oil spill in June 2010 covered an area close to populated coastal communities, affecting a number of workers and community members. Caban-Martinez said the impact this record-breaking spill had on the musculoskeletal system of oil-exposed workers is unclear.

“I feel very passionate about contributing to the development of new knowledge in the design, implementation and evaluation of work environment interventions,” Caban-Martinez said. “I want to understand how workplace injuries and work-related musculoskeletal disorders occur, investigate the risk factors that precipitate their occurrence and examine how the work environment and specific occupational exposures influence the reporting of injuries.”

Early in the fellowship, Caban-Martinez will analyze cross-sectional and longitudinal data collected from the GuLF STUDY (Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study), a health study of people who helped with the oil spill cleanup, were trained, signed up to work or were sent to the Gulf to help in some way after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Dale Sandler, Ph.D., Chief of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Epidemiology Branch and Principal Investigator of the GuLF STUDY, will collaborate with Caban-Martinez on this data during the fellowship.

Prior research has documented evidence of somatoform disorders related to musculoskeletal pain among first responders and oil-exposed coastal community members, said Caban-Martinez. Through this fellowship, he will examine determinants and risk factors that can lead to the development of musculoskeletal disorders among this often marginalized minority worker population.

“He is an exceptional candidate for this type of fellowship training that leverages his physician-scientist background in medicine, epidemiology and occupational health and safety to examine how the work environment impacts human health,” said David J. Lee, professor of public health sciences and Director of the Graduate Programs in Public Health, who will also serve as his institutional mentor during the fellowship.

The $500 million Gulf Research Program was established by agreements arising from the settlement of the U.S. government’s criminal complaints following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, and seeks to improve understanding of the interconnecting human, environmental and energy systems of the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf areas, and foster application of these insights to benefit Gulf communities, ecosystems and the nation. The Gulf Research Program will fund studies, projects and other activities using three broad approaches: research and development, education and training, and environmental monitoring.

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