NASA gives way to Puerto Rican scientist research on COVID-19

The United States Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA, for its acronym in English) awarded a new research proposal to the Dr. Pablo Méndez Lázaro, Associate Professor of the Graduate School of Public Health, Department of Environmental Health of the Medical Sciences Campus (RCM) of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) to study the interaction of air quality, socio-ecological variables and SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).

The research work entitled: “Study of Imminent Interactions between SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), Air Quality due to Saharan Dust and Urban Aerosols, and Social Environmental Factors in Puerto Rico in summer 2020: Proxies of Health Risk in Small Island States in the Caribbean Region ”, was submitted in March 2020 to the Scientific Mission Directorate, Division of Earth Sciences of NASA.

“There are countless variables and factors (environmental, social, virological, genetic, among others) that interact with the SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19. Recent scientific evidence in the US, Europe and Asia suggest that environmental variables play an important role in the death rate from COVID-19. Mainly it has been observed that the mortality rate attributed to COVID-19 is associated with risk factors and pre-existing health conditions. Some of the risk factors cited in the scientific literature are: obesity, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, the elderly, hypertension, pre-existing respiratory problems, among others. Similarly, the literature suggests that the mortality attributed to COVID-19 increases in cities with high concentrations of air pollution, ”explained Dr. Méndez Lázaro.

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The main objective of the proposed study is to better understand the interactions between COVID-19, Sahara dust, and environmental factors (air temperature, sea surface temperature, wind, precipitation among other factors) in Puerto Rico using satellite data from ground observation and public health records. It is important to understand whether such stressors lead to weaknesses in the public that exacerbate the impact of COVID-19.

Dr. Méndez Lázaro expressed feeling, “extremely proud that they have granted this research since it is very important to understand the risks and ways in which COVID-19 is evolving and how it continues to spread.” This study will help to understand environmental risk factors that can exacerbate the pandemic situation.

For his part, the president of the UPR, Dr. Jorge Haddock, highlighted the importance of Dr. Méndez-Lázaro’s project at the global level, for Puerto Rico and for the institution.

“On behalf of our entire university community, congratulations to Dr. Méndez-Lázaro and his entire team for this important achievement. We are certain that with his talent, knowledge, and committed team, he will be able to make important contributions to stop the spread and contagion of COVID-19. With this research, there are more than 12 initiatives that we are promoting from the main educational center in Puerto Rico, focused on stopping the pandemic caused by the coronavirus virus. Once again, the University of Puerto Rico puts the best talent and knowledge at the service of the people, and specifically, Dr. Méndez-Lázaro’s research has great relevance for the island and at a global level, ”said Haddock.

The research team includes the participation of Co-Investigators: Dr. Frank Muller-Karger from the University of South Florida; Dra. Ana P. Ortíz-Martínez of the Comprehensive Cancer Center of the UPR; Dr. Cynthia Pérez-Cardona of the RCM; Dr. Benjamin Bolaños from the Department of Microbiology of the RCM; Dr. Daniel Otis from the University of South Florida; and Dr. David De Angel Sola, Pediatric Pulmonologist.

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