Have you ever wondered how a hot and humid day can affect the ability of our bodies to function? Three UK College of Medicine researchers are raising this important question in light of climate change and the prediction that more people will be exposed to these conditions over time. 

The research team includes Patrick Hannon, PhD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology; Cetewayo Rashid, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and nutritional sciences; and Hollie Swanson, PhD, professor of pharmacology and nutritional sciences. Together, they are leading a project to understand how co-exposures to endocrine disruptors, high heat, and humidity can affect physiological events involved in fertility, birth outcomes, obesity and diabetes development, and the ability to clear harmful chemicals from our bodies. 

Their $30,000 project was funded by the UK for KY Rapid Response Pilot Program, which involved many University of Kentucky groups, including the National Center for Research Resources, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (UK CCTS), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (UK-CARES), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment, the UK Center for the Environment, and the UK Vice President for Research.

The study will begin by monitoring the effects of high heat and high humidity on mice using special chambers. These mice will also be exposed to a chemical studied by Dr. Hannon, di (2-ethylhexyl phthalate), which is present in many plastics and has been shown to harm reproductive and metabolic health. 

The study is expected to be completed in one year. Dr. Swanson said the results from these studies will be useful for identifying which persons are most vulnerable to the effects of high heat and humidity and finding ways to help them better protect themselves.

“This research is exciting because it has the potential to help a large number of people worldwide,” Dr. Swanson said. “It is only by combining our different areas of expertise here at the University of Kentucky that we can better address the human health effects that will result because of climate change. I would like to see UK be a key leader in these efforts,” Swanson said.

The UK for KY Rapid Response Pilot Program was created in response to the recent flooding in Eastern Kentucky, as well as other increasing climate-related health challenges. The program supported faculty across UK colleges who proposed research on how climate change affects human health, tools and technologies that can potentially foster climate resilience, and how to help people affected by climate change and weather-related disasters.

Click here for more information about the pilot program.