Anthropology Provides Powerful Data

Dried blood samples provide insights into how social factors influence health

Anthropologists study the complexities of culture and biology to create solutions for human problems. Dr. Josh Snodgrass, of the University of Oregon, is a broadly trained biological anthropologist with an expertise in human evolutionary biology. His research focuses on human health and adaptation and is unified by its physiological approach. Using dried blood samples (DBS), he and his highly collaborative team provide powerful data for researchers in the social sciences and in biomedicine/epidemiology which leads to applications in both public health and medicine. Such data allows his team to tap into underlying physiology and examine the specific pathways through which social and other environmental factors 'get under the skin' to shape human development, behavior, and health. Such research has inspired many researchers to apply DBS to a variety of questions such as how racial discrimination affects health, the pathways through which adverse childhood experiences influence aging, and the optimization of treatment strategies for patients with tuberculosis.

Dr. Snodgrass' research has proceeded along four major lines: 1) human adaptation to environmental stressors; 2) the influence of social change on health; 3) human energetics and evolution of the human diet; and 4) the role of psychosocial stress in health and disease. Many of his research projects cut across multiple focal areas which reflect his deep commitment to integration across anthropological subfields and between anthropology and other disciplines, including physiology, epidemiology, psychology, nutritional sciences, and evolutionary biology. Such an holistic approach offers a powerful integrative theoretical perspective that incorporates biocultural and evolutionary components. He has also worked to develop cutting-edge techniques that are minimally invasive, cost-effective, and secure translational research for global public health and biomedical practice.

Current projects include:

  • The Shuar Health and Life History Project: Dr. Snodgrass' multifaceted research project focuses on the effects of economic development on health among the Shuar, an indigenous Amazonian population in Ecuador. This project has expanded the view of health change with economic development thus helping to elucidate the physiological mechanisms and environmental triggers responsible for trade-offs in different somatic functions such as growth and immune function.

  • The Couples Project: Dr. Snodgrass' collaborative project uses multiple biomarkers to trace the pathways from conflictual and dysfunctional romantic relationships to chronic psychosocial stress to the development and progression of chronic disease.

  • The Study on global AGEing and adult health (SAGE): Dr. Snodgrass' project is obtaining comprehensive longitudinal data on the health and well-being of older adults in six middle income countries (China, Ghana, India, Mexico, Russia, and South Africa). SAGE has allowed researchers to test assumptions about aging that have been based almost exclusively on Western data and models.

  • Evolution of the Human Diet: This research uses an evolutionary approach to examine whether humans are adapted to eat a particular diet and to consider how contemporary health challenges are related to a mismatch between Western diets and our evolved biology.

  • The Indigenous Siberian Health and Adaptation Project: Dr. Snodgrass studies human adaptation to chronic cold stress among native Siberians and its relevance to health. This research has identified metabolic adaptations to cold stress among native circumpolar groups and considered how these physiological adaptations influence chronic disease risk, specifically an increased risk of hypertension and stroke.

  • Biomarker Assay Development and Application: Dr. Snodgrass' lab develops minimally invasive techniques and specializes in using biomarkers from DBS to study stress, immune function, and reproductive function.

Bio

Dr. Snodgrass is driven by a desire to make the world a better place, and this motivates his research and teaching. Research allows him to make a difference and this has also led him to focus more in recent years on public health since this research can make an immediate difference for public policy, health innovations, and more. In addition, his innate curiosity about how the world works influences his research and has also led him to develop undergraduate courses such as Evolutionary Medicine that make science accessible to students in the humanities and professional schools. He was interested from a young age in science and nature, and attributes an interest in how the world works to early trips to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

Dr. Snodgrass discovered anthropology as an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Cruz and was immediately drawn to its holistic approach that integrated biology, ecology, and behavior. He worked briefly in forensic anthropology after college, notably working in the former Yugoslavia for the United Nations/Physicians for Human Rights on the analysis of remains from mass graves in Bosnia and Croatia. Although this forensics work was meaningful to him, it left him hungry for opportunities to conduct integrative and theoretically driven research. Dr. Snodgrass ended up studying contemporary human populations because of an interest in applying an evolutionary, biocultural approach to understanding how humans survive in challenging environments and considering how these environments shape health and risk of disease. He is now motivated to apply the powerful theoretical and methodological tools that anthropologists have to public health and biomedical problems.

In his free time, outside of research, Dr. Snodgrass loves to scuba dive and to spend time on the water. Beginning as an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, he developed an interest in diving and has explored dive spots up and down the west coast of the US. In addition, he enjoys hiking, photography, cooking, and most of all spending time with his six year old daughter.

Website: http://www.pinniped.net/snodgrass.html

Publications

Intimate partner violence and diurnal cortisol patterns in couples

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Multimorbidity: Health care that counts past one for 1.2 billion older adults

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Health of indigenous circumpolar populations

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Effect of sleep quality and duration on cognitive function among older adults from six middle income countries: Results from ...

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What a drop can do: Dried blood spots as a minimally-invasive method for integrating biomarkers in population-based research

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Awards

University of Oregon Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award, 2014

Michael A. Little Early Career Award, 2013

Elected as Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2013

Scientist to Watch in August issue of The Scientist magazine, 2013

University of Oregon Williams Fellow for distinguished undergraduate teaching, 2012

Outstanding Faculty Advising Award, National Academic Advising Association, 2015

Vice President of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists