CGHSR Creates Research Collaborative with Chiang Mai University to Advance Global Health Initiatives

Faculty and staff from Chiang Mai University and the University of Minnesota pose for a picture.

Faculty and staff from Chiang Mai University and the University of Minnesota during a meeting in Thailand. 

A new research collaborative launched by the Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility (CGHSR) seeks to advance global health research and foster lasting partnerships with researchers in Thailand. 

CGHSR created the collaborative with Chiang Mai University’s Research Institute of Health Sciences (RIHES) in 2023 to bring together faculty from CMU and UMN in efforts to establish joint research initiatives.

The initiative aims to provide more opportunities for collaboration, leverage infrastructure to ease the administrative lift of operationalizing global health research and create an environment that fosters partnership and opportunities to mentor students. 

While there is a longstanding history of collaboration between UMN and CMU, partnered research stalled after the COVID-19 pandemic. The CMU-RIHES team first visited Minnesota in late 2022, and the CGHSR team worked with them throughout 2023 to determine CMU research interests and priorities, and pair them with UMN experts in each field. 

Faculty from CMU and UMN who saw opportunities for research collaborations were encouraged to apply for CGHSR seed grants, which receive external reviews. The three funded projects, all of which scored well, were selected for a new research initiative that would start in 2023, with expanded and joint funding provided by both CMU and UMN-CGHSR.  

In 2023, the collaborative funded three research projects led by principal investigators from both UMN and CMU. Initial areas of research include environmental health, air pollutants, PM 2.5 and genetic variants associated with liver cancer in Thailand.

“Too often global health research is conducted in silos. This partnership aims to create meaningful collaboration between multiple PIs at both UMN and CMU to create impactful global health research,” said CGHSR Executive Director Shailey Prasad, MD, MPH. 

“We are already seeing faculty work across projects to discuss IRB approvals, avoid sample bias and implement strategies to streamline costs. In addition, PIs from both institutions are engaging UMN and CMU students in these projects.”

The research projects, along with UMN and CMU PIs involved in each, are:

Particulate Matter (PM2.5), Pesticides and Respiratory Health Among Male Farmers Living in Agricultural Areas, Northern Thailand

  • Bruce Alexander, PhD, Professor and Division Head of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health (PI, University of Minnesota) 
  • Surat Hongsibsong, PhD, Lecturer/Researcher, RIHES (PI, Chiang Mai University)


Effects of Watercress Consumption on Detoxification of Air Pollutants in Thai Adults, Chiang Mai, Thailand

  • Irina Stepanov, PhD, Professor, School of Public Health, Masonic Cancer Center member, and director of the Institute for Global Cancer Prevention Research (PI, University of Minnesota)
  • Kanokwan Kulprachakarn, PhD, Instructor, RIHES (Co-PI, Chiang Mai University)


Genetic Variants Associated with Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Thailand

  • Jose Debes, MD, PhD, MS, Associate Professor, Medical School (PI, University of Minnesota) 
  • Sayamon Hongjaisee, PhD, Lecturer, RIHES (Main Co-I, Chiang Mai University) 


RIHES Deputy Director Kriengkrai Srithanaviboonchai MD, MPH, is a co-investigator on Alexander’s study, which is examining the effect particulate matter and pesticides have on the respiratory health of male farmers in Northern Thailand. 

“The objectives of developing research that can enhance health outcomes and address important social challenges on a global scale are perfectly aligned with the University of Minnesota’s commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration, global health and social responsibility,” said Srithanaviboonchai. 

“UMN is the right partner for this research.” 

Alexander emphasized the benefits the collaborative provides to research teams. The partnership provides the infrastructure necessary to help his team navigate the inherent challenges of global health research, he said. 

“A huge challenge in health research that reaches across the globe is the logistics of getting it done. In addition to the usual challenges of research, this work has additional complications of international transactions,” said Alexander. “CGHSR has the experience and skills to facilitate this type of research.”

Stepanov’s project is investigating the protective effects of watercress consumption in Thai smokers and nonsmokers exposed to air pollution. Watercress is a vegetable grown in Thailand that can speed up the detoxification of chemicals found in air pollution. 

Stepanov and her team are trying to determine whether the benefits of watercress are hampered by exposure to cigarette smoke, either by smoking or through second-hand smoke exposure. 

“The potential impact of this study is amplified because it addresses two major risk factors for lung cancer: air pollution and smoking. All of this is highly relevant to communities around the world,” said Stepanov. 

Debes’ project aims to better understand the genetic variants associated with liver cancer. Hepatocellular carcinoma, the type of cancer Debes is studying, is the most common type of primary liver cancer globally. 

Debes will study genetic predisposition to the disease in distinct ethnic regions in Thailand. He is currently studying genetic predisposition to Hepatocellular carcinoma in African and Latin American populations. 

“Genetics vary from population to population, so a genetic mutation present in caucasians might not apply to Asians, or, say, Africans,” said Debes. “Therefore a broad understanding of genetic patterns across populations is important to determine cancer risk related to population background.” 

The three teams involved in the collaborative will work over the next 24 months to conduct their research, and both RIHES and CGHSR are actively exploring expanding this partnership.