APA Prize for AUB professors in interdisciplinary team for study of tobacco products

​​Safa Jafari Safa<ss152@aub.edu.lb>, Office of Communications

A faculty team comprising the VCU Center for the Study of Tobacco Products (CSTP), including AUB Professors Najat Saliba and Alan Shihadeh, received the 2018 American Psychological Association (APA) Prize for Interdisciplinary Team Research. Every year, the APA recognizes an interdisciplinary research team that has produced significant scientific work. 

“The team members readily cross the boundaries of their varied fields, which strengthens the quality and sophistication of the research,” stated an announcement of the prize by APA President Jessica Henderson Danial and Chair of the Board of Scientific Affairs Sara Jo Nixon, who described the “impressive” scope and programmatic nature of CSTP’s work. “The team has a long history of productivity and impact, and its proposed research has the strong potential to advance understanding of nicotine use behavior and outcomes through development of predictive models. This work also promises to guide regulatory policy in the interest of public health.” 

The VCU Center for the Study of Tobacco Products (CSTP) is a US FDA and NIH funded Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science, one of 14 such centers. Led by Professor of Psychology Thomas Eissenberg, it brings together a multi-disciplinary group of faculty from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), the American University of Beirut, and Penn State University to develop a scientific basis for the regulation of so-called modified risk tobacco products. In its first five-year cycle, the CSTP has focused its attention on the hugely controversial field of electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes), and using analytical laboratory, clinical laboratory, randomized controlled trial, and social media analytics, has produced key findings about toxicant exposure, abuse potential, and how might combustible cigarette users substitute combustible cigarettes for e-cigarettes.  

At AUB, the technology and physical sciences arm of the CSTP, Professors Saliba and Shihadeh, have led teams developing mathematical and empirical models for nicotine and other toxicant emissions. Among other things, they demonstrated that e-cigarettes can emit far less to far greater levels of nicotine and other toxicants than combustible cigarettes, depending on device characteristics like materials of construction and geometry, and the ways the products are used by people. Their work can support the development of product standards that protect public health.

With the shared goal of producing the rigorous science needed to inform an imperially-based tobacco policy, the CSTP team includes scientists with expertise in aerosol research, analytical chemistry, behavioral pharmacology, biostatistics, clinical psychology, community psychology, engineering, experimental psychology, internal medicine, and public health. The team provides core support services, opportunities for faculty development, training of post-doctoral fellows and graduate students, and a small grants program. This way, the CSTP helps to attract and retain faculty in this rapidly expanding field of research and facilitates additional multi-disciplinary research awards.

“The APA prize is a strong testimony of the importance of interdisciplinary research.  Every time I collaborate with a colleague, I feel I gain a new dimension, the research question is more rounded, and the outcomes impact a larger audience,” said Dr. Saliba. “The long-time collaboration between Dr. Shihadeh’s and my team has impacted several undergraduate and graduate research careers and have contributed to the training of several post-doctoral visitors.”

“In many ways, this team grew out of a phone conversation almost 15 years ago between an engineer and a psychologist who shared a common concern about the rapid proliferation of waterpipe tobacco use,” Dr. Shihadeh told us. “We were open to learning one another’s languages and methods as we formulated a research agenda to do something about it. That willingness to work outside our respective comfort zones – to be students again – is a hallmark of the CSTP. It is an attitude that has allowed the team to formulate and engage questions that none of us could have developed from within any one of our disciplines, and to have an important impact in the world of tobacco control, particularly in the area of modified risk tobacco products.”​