Jason Glaser (Co-Founder and CEO) utilizes his backgrounds in documentary production and international investigation to coordinate scientific research, advocacy, publicity, agricultural innovation and community development projects aimed at ending the CKDnT epidemic. He is currently studying epidemiology at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

A leading voice on this topic worldwide, scientific articles co-authored by Glaser have appeared in the American Journal of Kidney Disease, MEDICC Review, and Nature’s Kidney International, among others. His commentary on the epidemic is sourced by major news media, including The New York Times, VICE, National Geographic, Science, NPR and Scientific American. Glaser is recognized as one of five 2015 Tallberg Global Leaders.

Glaser encountered the CKDnT epidemic in Nicaragua while producing the documentary film Bananaland, an investigation of environmental and human rights abuses in the Latin American banana industry.

Ilana WeissSenior Director of Public Health and Policy

Ilana first learned of the epidemic of CKDnT in 2008 as a first year Masters student at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health on a research trip to Nicaragua. The experience had such an impact on her that when she returned to New York she added another Masters degree to her course of study from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. After graduation she joined La Isla Network to develop the organization’s public health and research strategy.

Ilana has been working in Latin America for over a decade. She has led some of the most important and insightful studies investigating the working conditions experienced by sugarcane workers in Central America, including the acclaimed Worker Health and Efficiency (WE) Program, the first evaluation of whether improving work practices can prevent the onset of CKDnT. She has co-authored several scientific papers in leading medical journals and has collaborated extensively with an international network of stakeholders.

Scientific Advisory Board

The Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) ensures that the research La Isla Network funds and other research we help design is of the highest quality. The SAB assesses the research priorities of the Network, the merits of research we fund, and provides evaluations of other parties’ research to use in our communications about CKDnT.

Ben Caplin

Senior Clinical Lecturer in Nephrology, University College London
Ben Caplin’s research interests concern the progression and complications of chronic kidney disease (CKD) with a focus both on population studies and translation into the laboratory. Caplin works closely with Doctor Norman and Professor Wheeler within the Department of Nephrology as well as collaborators across UCL and at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Caplin and his team of researchers have a longstanding aim to better understand the cardiovascular consequences of impaired kidney function. Specifically, their focus is on the stiffening and thickening of the muscle layer that occurs in the arteries of patients with CKD. Currently, they are investigating this process using histological and molecular biological approaches in blood vessels donated by patients undergoing renal transplantation. Recently, Caplin and his team have developed a research interest in regional endemic nephropathies, also called CKD of undetermined cause (CKDnT). CKDnT is an increasingly important, though probably still vastly under-recognized, cause of death amongst agricultural communities in tropical underdeveloped regions around the world. The cause(s) of CKDnT are still poorly understood. To this end, Ben Caplin is co-principal investigator of a community-based cohort study investigating the aetiology and natural history of CKDnT in Pacific Coast Central America. The cohort researchers are currently using biosamples from this study to examine a number of the leading hypotheses as to the cause of CKDnT. Alongside his research work, Caplin also co-manages the academic team delivering the NHS National CKD Audit, which aims to quantify the burden and management of CKD across the entire primary care registered population of England and Wales.

Kristina Jakobsson

Professor in Environmental Medicine, Gothenburg University
There is a long tradition of collaboration between Sweden and Central America on occupational and environmental health through SALTRA. With a background as a clinical doctor and researcher in occupational and environmental medicine in Sweden, Kristina Jakobsson became aware of the epidemic of CKDnT in Central America more than a decade ago, during a period of bilateral PhD projects between the universities in Managua and Lund, Sweden. Since then, Jakobsson has participated in prevalence studies in El Salvador and Nicaragua, a GIS-based registry study in Costa Rica, and recently a workplace intervention study in El Salvador. She was engaged in the preparations of the 1st and 2nd International Meetings and has been a board member of CENCAM since its start. Jakobsson maintains that we now have reason to believe CKDnT is not only a serious Mesoamerican problem, but also one that appears in other continents, especially in disadvantaged populations in a hot climate. Her experience is through contacts with researchers and during visits to Sri Lanka and India. It is Jakobsson’s vision that LIF will support dedicated research based on interdisciplinary and top-standard professional expertise, which will be translated to the public health system and to the actors and stakeholders in affected regions.

Tord Kjellstrom

Director of the Health and Environment International Trust (HEIT), New Zealand
Visiting Fellow, Professor, Australian National University (ANU), Australia
Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Technology Research and Innovation (CETRI), Cyprus
Tord Kjellstrom has been a researcher and academic teacher over four decades, primarily in the environmental and occupational epidemiology fields, initially carrying out epidemiological studies of the effects of cadmium, lead, methyl-mercury, asbestos and children’s traffic accidents. At the World Health Organization (WHO), Kjellstrom developed scientific review work as well as training and research promotion in environmental health and chemical safety. He became director of an office with the responsibility of developing analysis and global guidance on climate change and health and other emerging topics. From 1998, in New Zealand, Kjellstrom continued research on health effects of air pollution, climate change, road transport, urban health, and globalization as well as the health links to sustainable development. Kjellstrom was (and remains) co-principal investigator in teams that have received substantial grants for these studies from sources in Sweden, USA, UK, New Zealand and Australia, including Health Research Council of New Zealand, Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. Recently, Kjellstrom has been co-principal investigator in several major research programs (“Capacity-building in Environmental Health”, ANU; “Training Program on Atmospheric Environment and Health”, ANU; “Health Transition Study in Thailand”, ANU; “Health Effects of Air Pollution in New Zealand”, New Zealand agencies; “Healthy Urban Systems”, ANU) and produced reports on globalization and public health (Swedish National Institute of Public Health), urban health equity (WHO Kobe Center), road transport and public health (Swedish National Road Authority), and climate change and health research priorities. Kjellstrom also been active in occupational health development programs in developing countries. Some were funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) in Central America (SALTRA), Southern Africa (WHASA) and most recently (2012-2014) in India. In recent years, He has carried out work for the WHO on climate change and health, urban health, and health equity. Currently, Kjellstrom is expanding the program of studies on “High Occupational Temperature Health and Productivity Suppression (HOTHAPS)” on a global level to document impacts of climate change on occupational health and productivity. This program involves collaboration with institutions in Australia, Malaysia, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, United Kingdom, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal, India, South Africa, Nigeria, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and USA. New cooperation with a large number of institutions in Europe is planned to start in 2016 under the heading HEAT-SHIELD, with a focus on increases in heat exposure levels in workplaces related to climate change and how to limit their negative impacts.

Hans Kromhout

Professor, the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, the Netherlands, Chair of Environmental Epidemiology

Hans Kromhout is an international authority on occupational and environmental exposure assessment and epidemiology based at the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Kromhout’s work has covered the health effects of chemical and physical (EMF) agents in the workplace and general environment. He has been the (co-) principal investigator of large international studies in, among others, the asphalt industry, rubber manufacturing industry, industrial minerals industry, health sector, and agriculture, and community-based studies on cancer, respiratory diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and reproductive health effects. Kromhout has published more than 350 peer-reviewed publications.

Vidhya Venugopal

Professor of Industrial Hygiene & Environmental Health, Department of Environmental Health Engineering, Sri Ramachandra University, India
As an occupational hygienist and climate change scientist, Venugopal works with a dedicated team of interdisciplinary scientists to study links between exposures to occupational heat stress and health. Having completed two epidemiological studies on vulnerability to occupational heat stress and its implications on health among the Indian working population, her team’s results point to the fact that workplace exposures, one of them being heat, play a major role in determining the health of the huge working population in the Asian subcontinent, which is largely ignored. Research evidence suggests that the effect of higher temperatures (in many parts of Asia) combined with poor working conditions and limited welfare facilities is causing an increase in Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) due to repeated dehydration, especially with the predicted rise in temperatures due to climate change. Venugopal’s research clearly shows select occupational sectors having a higher prevalence of kidney-related illnesses, and she strongly believes that it is time to raise awareness about the kidney issues and make the intervention now to prevent the disease, rather than manage it later. Pockets of Andhra Pradesh and Odissa in India are endemic states for kidney diseases, and the number of deaths due to heat is increasing by the year in many states of India. There is a need to protect the millions of vulnerable workers exposed to various environmental stressors that may affect their renal health. Venugopal’s research group is both qualified and equipped to work on the occupational hygiene factors that could be causal factors for the disease’s development. The millions of workers in the Asian subcontinent, especially in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, etc., need representation by someone who understands their reality, culture, working style, and behavior. Also, it is important to persuade funders and researchers to conduct prevalence and intervention studies based on the lessons learned from Central America, Sri Lanka, and Uddanam. By drawing knowledge from the experiences of CENCAM researchers, I believe we can make a big difference in preventing future epidemics. I am passionate about bringing my occupational hygiene and climate change knowledge to explore, learn, and collaborate with other CENCAM researchers and “make the difference” for the Asian region. 

David H. Wegman

Professor Emeritus, Department of Work Environment, University of Massachusetts Lowell; Adjunct Professor at Harvard School of Public Health

David H. Wegman was founding chair of the Department of Work Environment (1987-03) and later (2003-8) Dean of the School of Health and Environment at UMass Lowell. Previously he served on the faculty at the Harvard School of Public Health and as Division Chair of Occupational and Environmental Health at UCLA School of Public Health. Currently, Dr. Wegman serves as a member of the board of directors of the Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mine Safety and Health and a consultant to the Massachusetts State Department of Health. He received his BA from Swarthmore College and both his MD and MSc from Harvard University. Dr. Wegman’s epidemiologic research includes over 200 publications on acute and chronic occupational respiratory disease, occupational cancer risk and occupational musculoskeletal disorders and in surveillance of occupational conditions and risks. Most recently, he has been directing an intervention study to address Mesoamerican Nephropathy (MeN) in El Salvador. Dr. Wegman is a National Associate of the National Research Council, a member of the National Academy of Science (NAS) Board on Human Systems Integration, a member of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Aerospace Medicine and the Medicine of Extreme Environments, and has chaired or served on a number of NAS ad hoc committees. He chaired the Mine Safety and Health Administration Advisory Committee on the Elimination of Pneumoconiosis Among Coal Mine Workers and previously served on the Boards of Scientific Counselors for NIOSH and for the National Toxicology Program as well as on the EPA Science Advisory Board. In 1998, he was awarded a Fulbright Senior Fellowship for study of health and safety of older workers in Sweden. In 2006, he was appointed chair of the International Evaluation Group for an analysis of Occupational Health Research in Sweden. Mesoamerican Nephropathy (MeN) is a devastating and inevitably fatal epidemic of a chronic disease that is significantly related to occupational exposures. Chronic kidney disease of unknown origin in other regions of the world may have similar causes. There is a need to understand the causal pathways to develop alternative approaches to intervention and to rigorously assess their efficacy and effectiveness. La Isla Network provides a unique opportunity to know about active research worldwide on etiology and prevention, to learn about current impacts of the epidemic(s) at the human and community level, and to participate, where possible, in the development of effective policies to eliminate these epidemics.

Board of Directors

La Isla Network’s board consists of Jason Glaser, Armin Rosencrantz, and Ryan Scales. We are currently recruiting for a new board. If you have interest or know someone who would be interested in the governance and fundraising of La Isla Network please contact us.

Armin Rosencranz, Professor of Law at Jindal Global University, is a lawyer and political scientist (AB Princeton; MA, JD, PhD Stanford). He founded Pacific Environment, an international environmental NGO that he led for nine years. Rosencranz taught energy and climate for many years at Stanford with his late colleague Steve Schneider, with whom he co-edited two books on climate change policy. He received three teaching awards at Stanford and is a former Stanford trustee. He has been an Indianist for more than 30 years, and has taught at four Indian law schools. His co-authored book, Environmental Law and Policy in India, is the standard book on the subject in India. He has received five Fulbright awards, including two to India.

Ryan Scales is a co-founder of La Isla Foundation and champion of sustainability in the garment industry as well as an important voice on CKDnT.