Senior Fiona Carter-Tod

First Luce scholar will study the health hazards of fires used for cooking

March 27, 2021

Research & Innovation

Senior Fiona Carter-Tod has been selected as UR’s first recipient of the prestigious Luce Scholars Program, which aims to enhance the understanding of Asia among potential leaders in American society.

The program, launched by the Henry Luce Foundation in 1974, provides stipends, language training, and professional placement in Asia, which is finalized after recipients are announced. The nationally competitive fellowship is awarded annually to 15 to 18 graduating seniors and young alumni nationwide.

During her undergraduate career, Carter-Tod conducted research under the mentorship of biology professor Shannon Jones on the inflammatory effects of smoke produced by burning natural materials for heat, light, and cooking in predominantly emergent nations. She has also investigated the potential of yew tree bark as a natural combative supplement to reduce pulmonary inflammation caused by open fires.

More than 3 billion people use biomass fuels in open fires, primarily in developing countries. Exposure to the smoke can lead to acute lower respiratory infections, pneumonia, asthma, lung cancer, and other conditions.

“The negative health outcomes disproportionately affect women and children due to the frequency and proximity of interactions with open house fires,” Carter-Tod said.

Carter-Tod, a double major in biology and leadership studies, is pursuing a career in immunological research centered around social justice and the elimination of health disparities. After entering UR as a Richmond Scholar, she became interested in immunology and how most diseases disproportionately and disparately affect vulnerable and underserved groups.

“We are so proud to have Fiona represent Richmond as our first Luce Scholar,” said Dana Kuchem, director of the Office of Scholars and Fellowships. “The opportunity to spend a year developing as a researcher abroad will have a lasting impact on her future as an immunologist.”

Carter-Tod said her interest in global health issues arose from mission work she conducted in high school, in Guatemala City and Cape Town, South Africa. Last year, she studied indigenous and eastern views on health in New Zealand.

“I’m excited to continue expanding my understanding of biomedicine, inequality, and health disparities beyond the United States,” she said.

Following the completion of her Luce fellowship, Carter-Tod plans to pursue a Ph.D. in immunology.