May 27, 2024

Climate change continues to pose critical health risks. Stronger storm systems and widespread flooding threaten our health care infrastructure and medical supply chains. Rising temperatures may increase the risk of disease, spread of insect-borne pathogens, and changes in water and air quality. 

Moreover, changes such as protracted periods of extreme temperatures are also likely to increase the burden on our body’s regulatory systems, stressing cardiovascular and pulmonary function with impact on the very young, the elderly, and those with underlying compromised health.

A newly formed governmental effort — the National Institutes of Health Climate Change and Health Initiative — aims to reduce those threats by fostering cross-cutting research collaborations and building on that science to develop effective policy to protect health in a changing world.

“The issue of climate change is complicated,” Rick Woychik recently said in a presentation at Yale University. “We have to figure out: what are the health consequences of the direct effects of climate change? But there are also all these indirect effects.”

Woychik directs the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the NIH, and steers the NIH Climate Change and Health Initiative executive committee. The initiative aligns 11 NIH center directors, drawing greater awareness of the negative health impacts of climate change.

In his public lecture, “Planning the Future of Environmental Health Sciences,” at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 9, at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in Roanoke, Woychik will discuss how the environment influences health outcomes and how the NIH is addressing these challenges. The talk will also explore how climate change unequally impacts vulnerable populations, emphasizing the need for innovative research strategies to mitigate risks and foster resilient communities.

“Dr. Woychik’s insights are shaping the future of how we understand the environmental impacts on health,” said Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology and the executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “His lecture will provide valuable information about the latest research and collaborative approaches to address these global challenges. It’s an opportunity to learn about the innovative work being done to curb climate-related risks while preparing for the future based on strong science.”

Woychik has directed the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program since 2020 after serving as the institute’s deputy director for nine years. Before joining the NIH, he served as president and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory, where he also directed the laboratory’s National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center.

As a molecular geneticist, Woychik has experience in academia and industry, serving as chief scientific officer for Lynx Therapeutics and as a professor within the departments of pediatrics, genetics, and pharmacology at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. 

His laboratory was the first to clone and characterize the Agouti gene, providing molecular insights into obesity and the brain’s satiety response. They also identified gene mutations associated with polycystic kidney disease, leading to a better understanding of its molecular biology.

Woychik earned his doctoral degree in molecular biology at Case Western Reserve University and did postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School.

The institute’s free public lecture series is made possible by Maury Strauss, a longtime Roanoke businessman and benefactor who recognizes the importance of bringing thought leaders in health sciences to the community.

The public is invited to attend the lecture, which includes a 5 p.m. reception with refreshments at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke. The event will also be streamed live via Zoom.


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