November 11, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 57 — Tackling tough issues

In today’s world, greenhouse gases from human activities are the most significant driver of observed climate change. And recent news that efforts to limit global warming should also focus on food production has put the issue back in the news. Indiana University’s Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge is addressing this issue through the Resilience Cohort program, which leads Indiana city, town, and county governments through the process of measuring, managing, and tracking their greenhouse gas emissions. Participants such as Emily Styron, mayor of Zionsville, receive one-on-one guidance, attend cohort training webinars, gain the opportunity to add staff by hosting a summer intern, and more. Earlier this year, Zionsville conducted an inventory of its greenhouse gas emissions, and officials are now developing a climate action plan to increase sustainability efforts and reduce emissions. Styron says understanding and defining measures to support resiliency is critical to meeting the local challenges that climate change brings to the Midwest. The next steps for Zionsville, she says, include establishing an Environmental Sustainability Commission and creating a climate change action plan.

In addition to climate change, the U.S. is facing another issue that impacts millions of people: substance abuse. In fact, more than 21 million Americans suffer from some form of substance use disorder. LaTasha Timberlake knows all too well the affect substance use can have on families, particularly mothers. As part of IU’s Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge, Timberlake works in community health, helping mothers who are struggling with substance use issues. Managed by Debra Litzelman, senior research scientist at Regenstrief Institute, the program’s overall goal is to reduce infant mortality. As a community health worker, Timberlake meets with her clients regularly, helping them through their pregnancy and beyond. Having grown up with a mother who abused drugs, Timberlake says supporting young women battling this issue and seeing them grow is gratifying work. It’s important for mothers with substance use disorder to know that someone is there for them, she says.

Finally, perhaps nothing affects Americans more than cancer. There are few people who have not been touched by cancer personally or through someone they know. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death and the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in the United States. That is the case for Angie Steeno, who was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in 2015, 10 years after overcoming an unrelated cancer. Knowing that Triple Negative Breast Cancer is more aggressive and does not yet have a targeted therapy to reduce recurrence, Steeno didn’t feel hopeful. But after hearing about the IU’s Grand Challenge Precision Health Initiative and its focus on triple negative breast cancer, Steeno had hope. IU’s triple negative breast cancer work is focused on finding the first targeted treatment for the disease and eventually a cure. Researchers have recently discovered how to predict whether triple negative breast cancer will recur, and which women are likely to remain disease-free. The initiative’s continuing progress gives women like her hope and a chance, she says.