Household Air Pollution: Foundation Grantee Champions Lung Health

In 2016, Catherine Oberg, MD, was awarded the CHEST Foundation Research Grant in Women’s Lung Health for her project on household air pollution in Ghana. Dr. Oberg describes how she is championing lung health.

How I Got Involved

In medical school I was very interested in international medicine and took a trip to Tanzania to do primary care work when I was in my fourth year. I saw firsthand how the people, women especially, sleep, cook, eat, and take care of their children and animals all in one house. I saw how direct smoke exposure from cooking caused symptoms of cough, phlegm, and shortness of breath. I knew this was an area where I could make an impact.

When you’re looking for grants to do this kind of work, it’s a very nebulous area. Fortunately, I learned about CHEST Foundation grants through my mentor, Alison Lee, MD, who was a CHEST Foundation grant recipient early in her career. With the help of the grant, I was able to furnish my own supplies, get everything to Ghana, train native health-care providers, and start doing assessments. The CHEST Foundation grant was perfect timing. I am so appreciative and honored to be a CHEST Foundation grant recipient. It’s such a humbling experience to be able to act on these things that I’ve been looking into for so many months. I’m just excited and thankful, and can’t wait to see what we’re able to show.

Tackling a Leading Cause of Lung Disease

In rural areas around the world, people cook with ineffective fuels, such as animal dung, that cause damaging household air pollution. This is a leading cause of asthma, COPD, and lung cancer worldwide, and it preferentially affects women and children because of their roles in the household. My project focuses on household air pollution with a goal to measure the effectiveness of utilizing a clean burning stove as an intervention.

We have a cohort of women in Ghana and have had randomized clusters using either a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) clean burning stove or a traditional cook stove for 18 months now. We’re going to look at their lung function, inflammatory markers, and respiratory symptoms and compare the groups to see if the intervention has made a difference.

The Impact

Being able to breathe is a function many of us take for granted. The ability to impact something this vital to everyday life is a really exciting and important challenge. It’s an area where I think we can make a big impact.

This grant is allowing us to run our entire inflammatory marker component. As we are learning more about asthma and COPD, we’re seeing phenotypes of people that don’t fit the standard. This cohort of women illustrates that heterogeneity of disease as we’re seeing more overlap in the symptoms they have. Currently, there’s really no data looking at this, and we now have the resources to dive into this research.

The Future

This project could bring about further research and hopefully provide evidence supporting these types of interventions. The impact could affect millions of people around the world. The CHEST Foundation grant is providing materials that are the foundation of our project. This grant allows us to design better studies in the future, to educate patients in a more effective manner, and to prevent these life-threatening diseases.

Dr. Catherine Oberg

Catherine is a second year Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, New York. Her research interests include global health, airway disorders, and minimally invasive approaches to diagnose and treat various lung diseases. She is an avid traveler and enjoys experiencing new cultures in her free time.