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Parkinson's Lara Dugas receives AXA Research Chair in Africa

Funds global research into the relationship between environmental factors and non-communicable disease outcomes in African-origin populations; supports global research partnership with Loyola 

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA and CHICAGO, June 2, 2021Lara Dugas, PhD, associate professor of Global Public Health and Epidemiology in the Department of Public Health Sciences at Loyola University Chicago’s (LUC’s) Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health, has been awarded a prestigious AXA Research Chair. Dugas is also an honorary professor in Human Biology at the University of Cape Town (UCT). 

“Our thanks to AXA for recognizing the importance of funding collaborative, inter-disciplinary, global research to promote health equity and to our partner, the University of Cape Town,” said Elaine Morrato, DrPH, MPH, CPH, founding dean of the Parkinson School. 

Only the second chair awarded to a researcher in Africa, this approximately $1.2M in funding through the AXA Research Chair in Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) Epidemiology will allow Dugas to continue her research into how the lived environment impacts long-term NCD outcomes in African populations and support a global research partnership between UCT and LUC.   

“It will permit us to combine three large cohorts from both UCT and LUC to understand the intersection between infectious, communicable diseases, and NCD risk,” said Dugas. “My primary funded research has focused on NCDs in African-origin populations. UCT has collaborated in my research since 2008 and this marks an amazing culmination of this partnership. The Chair will allow me to be based full-time at UCT, while still engaging in my internationally funded cohort studies, critical to the success of the Chair’s goals.” 

“I am the first in my family to receive a university degree,” said Dugas. “When I finished my PhD, I didn’t even know that positions like this existed. I have been extremely fortunate to have found a career that I feel so passionate about, and to be surrounded by so many incredible mentors and collaborators. This work really is built on the shoulders of giants,” she said.   

Her research focus: understand how lifestyle, including habitual diet and physical activity, alters the gut microbiota and changes NCD risk.  

Second chair awarded in Africa 

The Chair is one of only sixty-six that have been awarded by the AXA Research Fund, part of AXA, a French multinational insurance firm. The award seeks “to create a dedicated full-time senior academic position in an institution which supports a significant acceleration in the development of a research field and fosters a step-change in the career of the appointed AXA Professor.” 

The first Chair was awarded to UCT’s Professor Mark New, director of the African Climate and Development Initiative in 2016.  

A global research network 

According to Dugas, the Chair will support three important research collaborations. 

“First, our goal is to conduct world-class research by combining several large cohort studies to understand the intersection between long-term infectious disease and chronic NCD outcomes. Second, we will focus on capacity building by funding one senior research associate and two postdoctoral researchers within UCT’s School of Public Health & Family Medicine. Third, as part of a long-term strategy, we want to create a research environment that crosses departments and schools to bring together current NCD expertise. This will advance our understanding of the uniquely African NCD milieu,” she said.  

Dugas hopes that this collaboration will expand both UCT’s and LUC’s global public health footprints, not only through bi-directional exchanges between the two universities, but also through her current international research collaborations in Ghana, Jamaica, Seychelles, and the United States.