Latin America

Project Awards Summary, 2018-19

We are pleased to announce the inaugural grantees for academic programs and activities in Latin America for the 2018-2019 academic year. Each year, faculty committees review and accept faculty and student research proposals on the three themes of:

  • Science, Energy, Medicine, and Public Health
  • Business, Economics, Law, and Policy
  • Culture, Society, Religion, and the Arts

Science, Energy, Medicine and Public Health

Latin American Psychiatric Genetics Consortium: Startup

During the World Congress of Psychiatric Genetics 2017, a group of prominent Latin American investigators met with the goal to start an international collaborative consortium that will allow to gather a large number of samples to analyze Neuroimaging and Genetic data in Psychiatric Disorders, in order to run studies with high reliability and statistical power using data collected from different sites. Our expertise from the B-SNIP study at The University of Chicago positioned us at the lead of this group for analysis and methodology. Since then, we are meeting regularly via video-conferencing, and for 2018 we will meet in Latin America, in order to discuss details of an NIH Grant Proposal as well as to provide training to collaborators in a workshop.

The principle investigator of this project is Ney Alliey-Rodriguez (Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences) from the University of Chicago in collaboration with José Humberto Nicolini Sánchez (Psychiatric Genomics) from Instituto Nacional de Medicina Genetica (Mexico), Henriette Raventós (Biology) from the University of Costa Rica, Consuelo Walss-Bass Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences) from University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and Carlos A Naranjo Galvis (Departamento de Ciencias Básicas) from Universidad Autónoma de Manizales (Colombia).

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Understand the Molecular Nature of Temperature Sensitive Ion Channels

Ion-channels are crucial players in sensing external stimuli and modulating the transmission of information, and therefore, plasticity in neural networks. Ion-channels belong to a class of membrane proteins having the specific role of decreasing the energy barrier presented to ions by the lipid bilayer. These molecular machines can be opened (conductive) or closed depending on the stimulus strength of voltage, light, ions, neurotransmitters and temperature. 

In this project we present an interdisciplinary approach to unveil the molecular determinants of temperature sensing in the heat receptor TRPV1. We will analyze the thermal diffusion pathways in TRPV1 using anisotropic thermal diffusion. This is an in-silico method utilizing the known TRPV1 structure in its closed and open configurations and consists in injecting vibrational energy into each channel residue and determining the response of the rest of the protein. The pathways thus resolved will be experimentally checked by attaching gold nanoparticles (AuNP) to specific residues in different protein domains. Since AuNPs are much smaller than the channel, the heat production as a consequence of light absorption and plasmon resonance of the AuNP, will be constrained to a channel region defined by the amino acid to which the AuNP is attached. The local heat produced by the AuNP in different channel regions will help us to identify the highly temperature-sensitive structures (the temperature sensor) in TRPV1, where heating leads to channel opening. 

In addition, taking advantage of the UChicago and CINV expertise, we will hold a workshop to teach state-of-the-art biophysical techniques in ion channels. 

The principle investigators of this project include Francisco Bezanilla (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology) from the University of Chicago and Ramon Latorre (Centro Interdisciplinario de Neurociencias) from Universidad de Valparaiso (Chile). 

Latin-American Neurocritical Care and Acute Stroke Educational Initiative for Nurses

Patients suffering an acute severe neurological injury or stroke require immediate comprehensive medical and nursing care. The quality of the clinical management provided determines not only mortality but also likelihood of surviving with or without significant physical and/or mental disability. Nursing care plays a fundamental role in the outcome of these patients.

Through a series of structured interviews performed this last year we have found that nursing education about acute brain diseases is suboptimal in a significant number of medical institutions in Latin America. One of the reasons is the lack of educational tools focused on these diseases and provided in the countries’ native languages.

We have been very successful educating a large number of physicians in the last three years through an online course dedicated to the care of critically ill patients with acute neurological injuries. We will now develop a similar model, an online comprehensive nursing course focused on the management of critically ill patients with acute brain injuries and/or strokes.

The extension of the course is approximately 25 lectures with a strong audiovisual content, provided in Spanish and in Portuguese.

The principle investigator of this project is Fernando D. Goldenberg (Neurology-BSD) from the University of Chicago in collaboration with Nicholas Ciarrocchi (Adult Intensive Care Medicine) from Hospital Italiano de Buenos Aires, Victoria Marquevich (Intensive Care Medicine and Stroke) from Hospital Universitario Austral, and Nadia Tessore (Adult Intensive Care Medicine) from Hospital Italiano de Buenos Aires.

Laying the Groundwork for a Panamerican Ataxia Network

The spinocerebellar ataxias (SCAs) are a rare group of genetically-mediated neurodegenerative disorders distributed worldwide, but with regional population clusters of specific types. A series of research centers of excellence and expertise exists around the world, where these disorders are studied more intensely. With the genetic diagnosis of the SCAs well-established and the urgency for clinical trials upon us, there is a great need to interconnect these centers and develop a common language to quantitatively follow the progression of these disorders. 

The formation of European Spinocerebellar ataxia network (Eurosca) and the US consortium ataxia centers have resulted in productive collaborations in the study of the natural history of the SCAs.  Strong centers of ataxia research have formed around large population clusters of SCA patients in Cuba, Brazil and Mexico. We will launch a Panamerican network of ataxia researchers and clinicians who collaborate on the interchange of ideas and knowledge devoted to the understanding and development of treatments for SCA.  This is the culmination of a long-standing and growing collaboration between three ataxia research centers in the Caribbean and South America and two centers in the United States. Investigators in these centers have participated in research collaborations and conferences in the past several years, on topics concerning the genetics and clinical features.  Recently two US collaborative groups took part in the 9th SCA conference in Havana and trained the Cuban researchers in the use of a novel wearable sensor technology expected to become the common language for the assessment SCA patients worldwide.

The principle investigators of this project include Christopher Gomez (Neurology) from the University of Chicago, Fay Horak (Neurology) from Oregon Health Sciences University, and Luis Velazquez-Perez (Neurology) from the University Hospital of Holguin.

STEM-OuT Mexico (STEM Outreach Training in Mexico)

Our goal is to develop a program to train University of Chicago Scientists-in-Training (UofC ST), i.e. graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, in acquiring skills that are essential for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Innovation (STEM) communication and outreach in an international environment. Furthermore, this program will enrich UofC collaborations between UofC ST and Latin American institutions, scientists, and students, through a partnership with Clubes de Ciencia Mexico (CdeCMx: www.clubesdeciencia.mx ). CdeCMx is a prestigious non-profit organization that has consolidated a STEM outreach model in Mexico and recently expanded to five countries in Latin America. We strongly believe that CdeCMx is an ideal partner to extend collaborations due to its already existing network, as well as its ability to pair scientists from different countries according to their interests and potential. Outreach activities from UofC ST will thus increase the visibility and impact of The University of Chicago into a rapidly expanding network in Latin America, while providing the UofC STs a unique opportunity for growth. 

STEM-OuT Mexico will develop a training program to support UofC ST to develop and implement their own curricula, based on the CdeCMx model and incorporating education methods in Scientific Teaching. Participants will also develop and deliver a TED style talk for a lay audience, further supporting community engagement and communication skills. Hence, CdeCMx provides a unique partnership where UofC ST can develop and exercise a new skill set while impacting scientists in Latin America.

The principle investigators of this project include Sonia Hernandez (Surgery-BSD) fromthe University of Chicago and Oscar Pineda-Catalan (BCSD) from the University of Chicago in collaboration with Hugo Arellano-Santollo, Jorge Buendía-Buendia, and Rogelio Hernandez-Lopez from Clubes de Ciencia.

Growing a Chicago-Sao Paulo Craniofacial Research Community

We proposed at Conference, Facility Tour and Grant Writing Workshop in Piracicaba, Brazil in order to develop international collaborative research projects involving the University of Chicago, the University of Campinas, Piracicaba, Brazil and the Araçatuba School of Dentistry, São Paulo State University. This conference builds on collaborations between University of Chicago and University of Campinas in order to: acquire new knowledge in craniofacial biomechanics; develop novel therapies targeting craniofacial disorders, including those affecting skeletal, muscular and neurological components whether congenital or acquired in nature; improve existing treatment modalities, such as fixation of the craniofacial skeleton, distraction osteogenesis, feeding, speech and swallow therapies. The conference will deepen and widen the expertise in our collaborative networks, expose and create opportunities for collaborative research and training between these communities, and develop concrete plans for grant proposal submissions in the US and Brazil. 

The principle investigators of this project include Callum Ross (Organismal Biology & Anatomy) from the University of Chicago, Russell Reid (Surgery) from the University of Chicago, and Felippe Prado (Morphology-Anatomy) from Piracicaba Dental School, University of Campinas. 

Business, Economics, Law, and Policy

Criminal Governance in the Americas

Lurking behind a commonplace about Latin America—rapid urbanization leaves large populations in informal slums and peripheral zones—lies a startling truth. Since many slums are dominated by criminal groups, the number of people living under some form of criminal governance is in the tens if not hundreds of millions. For them, armed criminal groups structures virtually every aspect of daily life, from household finance to community relations and politics. Yet criminal governance is strangely absent from macro-level discussions of economic development, democratic consolidation, and peace and reconciliation processes. Today, as the region’s civil wars draw down, more citizens live under criminal than rebel governance, yet we know far less about it. 

Indeed, we desperately need a credible estimate of the number of people living under criminal governance. Yet we also lack a shared sense of just what criminal governance is, and how it varies across space and time. To fill these gaps, we will hold a major 2-day event at Chicago, with experts from across Latin America sharing local experiences, and collaboratively designing a methodology for measuring the extent, intensity, and varieties of criminal governance throughout the region. We will produce a headline estimate (and criteria for future updating of it), a special journal issue or edited volume, and pursue funding possibilities to establish an ongoing research project based at Chicago. The conference and future collaboration build on UChicago’s historic engagement with Latin America, its leadership in the study of urban issues, and its commitment to research with intellectual and practical impact.

The principle investigator of this project is Benjamin Lessing (Political Science) from the University of Chicago in collaboration with Jânia Perla Diogenes de Aquino (Sociology) from Universidade Federal do Ceará, Marcelo Bergman (Ciencias Sociales) from Universidad Tres de Febrero, and Andres Antillano (Ciencias Sociales) from Universidad Central de Venezuela.

Strategies for Improving the Governance of Rural Water Systems:  A Pilot Study in Honduras

Many developing countries face persistent challenges in providing public services to rural communities: health clinics do not have the doctors or medications needed to treat patients, teachers do not show up on a regular basis, and environmental resources are left unmanaged. 

In response, development organizations have prescribed various public sector governance reforms based on ideas from the new public management. These reforms, the most prominent of which is decentralization, aim to improve services by shifting authorities, responsibilities, and resources away from elected governments and toward organizations and community groups forming local governance systems. While outside donors continue to incentivize decentralization and community-based management across developing countries, we know relatively little about whether such changes in governance produce sustainable development or better-performing systems, and if they do, how. The guiding research question for this project is: why do some local governance systems in developing countries perform better than others? 

We will address this question through a targeted study of rural water systems in Honduras; the initial phase of this work will consist of interviews, a pilot study, and a stakeholder workshop assessing how different interventions combining technologies for water use monitoring with capacity-building exercises influence the performance and sustainable management of rural water systems.

The principle investigators of this project include Alan Zarychta from School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and Tara Grillos (Political Science) from Purdue University in collaboration with Pedro Castillo Milla from COCEPRADII.

Culture, Society, Religion and the Arts

Grief as Resistance: Toward a Transnational Research Collaborative on Racialized State Violence and the Politics of Black Motherhood in the Americas

Grief as Resistance is an ongoing transnational collaboration of scholars focused on race, inequality, and state violence, and Black women activists who have lost children to state violence in Brazil, Colombia, and the United States. The project builds on ties established at the inaugural Grief as Resistance workshop held at the University of Chicago in May 2017. This collaborative project emerged at a crucial moment, as Colombia embarks upon a historic peace process that nonetheless leaves Black communities vulnerable to continued violence; Brazil faces a political crisis that has furthered militarization of security and state violence against poor Black communities; and the United States faces a resurgence of white supremacist violence and growing police brutality.  During the 2018-2019 academic year, we will organize two gatherings – the first in Cali, Colombia and the second during the 2019 meeting of the Latin American Studies Association - to consolidate a transnational interdisciplinary project that brings together scholars and activists analyzing the unrelenting state violence faced by the African diaspora in the Americas and bolstering the central role of Black mothers in organizing the resistance to state violence. The collaborative project strengthens linkages across national, disciplinary, and institutional boundaries by consolidating ties between scholars at the University of Chicago and the Center for Afrodiasporic Studies at Universidad Icesi in Cali, Colombia, and promoting the development of a transnational model of engaged scholarship that pursues rigorous research and substantive partnerships with social movement activists fighting for justice and human rights on the ground.

The principle investigator of this project is Yanilda González from School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago in collaboration with Aurora Vergara (Law and Social Sciences) from Universidad Icesi (Colombia), Tathagatan Ravindran (Law and Social Sciences) from Universidad Icesi (Colombia), and Jaime Alves (Anthropology and Sociology) from City University of New York – College of Staten Island.

The Transnational History of Urban Informality

In July of 2018, an interdisciplinary group of scholars from eight countries will gather in Rio de Janeiro for a two-day conference entitled "Informal Neighborhoods in the Twentieth Century: Urban Policies and Forms of Sociability and Resistance". This conference will be the third of eight public conferences organized over four years by a collaborative team assembled to research the historical origins and evolution of informal cities around the world, with the goal of better understanding their place in the modern urban fabric and their relationship to modern legal and administrative structures. The public conference will be followed by three days of private working sessions, aimed at finalizing the group's first collaborative publication on the emergence of the informal city as an administrative and legal category. This particular conference session will include researchers on informal cities around the world, but will focus especially on their evolution in Brazil, Mexico, and Chile.

The principle investigator of this project isBrodwyn Fischer (History, Center for Latin American Studies) from the University of Chicago in collaboration with Rafael Soares Gonçalves, Leonardo Affonso de Miranda Pereira, Romulo Costa Mattos, Maira Machado Martins (Social Service, History, Architecture) from PUC-Rio, Charlotte Vorms (History) from Université de Paris, James House (Languages, Cultures, and Societies) from the University of Leeds, Emanuel Giannotti (Architecture and Urbanism) from Universidade de Chile, and Francesco Bartolini (Human Sciences) from Università di Macerata.

Mexico Visiting Scholar Program

This is a Visiting Scholar program run by Mexico's Fulbright Commission (COMEXUS) and the University of Chicago's Katz Center for Mexican Studies. The annual program brings a distinguished Mexican Scholar to Chicago for up to five months to do research, lecture, and collaborate with Chicago faculty and students. A call for applications is issued annually in Mexico after Chicago faculty select a preferred research area or topic. In addition to working with Chicago faculty and students, Visiting Scholars are also expected to organize a seminar or conference and to offer talks in Chicago's Mexican community. The topic for 2018-19 is immigration.

The principle investigators of this project include Emilio Kourí (History) from the University of Chicago and Rafael Alarcón Acosta (Social Studies) from El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Mexico in collaboration with Renée González de la Lama from Fulbright-COMEXUS.

Ancient Inequalities: Economy, Culture, and Society in West Asia, circa 550 BCE-750 CE

The Ancient Inequalities project will explore the intersections of cultural, social, and economic forms of inequality in preindustrial societies, primarily in West Asia during the so-called Imperial Iron Age, circa 550 BCE-750 CE, but in dialogue with chronologically and geographically distance preindustrial societies such the pre-Columbian civilizations. The first conference, to take place December 3-4, 2018, will focus on the cultural and economic resources of elite identities, that is, the relationships between economic power and cultural repertoires of self-fashioning and self-representation. Scholars have studied these areas extensively in the past, but there remains an analytical gap between economic and non-economic dimensions of ancient elite identity. To a large extent, this gap results from the inherited models provided by Marxist and Weberian scholarly traditions—the former giving priority to economic analysis, the latter to social inquiry. We want to explore the connections between the economic underpinnings of elite dominance and the cultural identities that marked social boundaries in different ancient societies.

The principle investigators of this project is Richard Payne (History and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations) from the University of Chicago in collaboration with Julian Gallego (History) from University of Buenos Aires, Carlos Garcia Mac Graw (History) from University of La Plata, John Weisweiler (History) from University of Maryland, and Damian Fernandez (History) from Northern Illinois University.