Four Faculty Receive U Grants to Tailor Health Care and Improve Equity

Charlie Plain | October 6, 2016

The University of Minnesota has awarded the first of its Grand Challenges Research Grants to four projects headed by School of Public Health faculty. Principal investigators (PI) Nicole Basta, Ellen Demerath, Sarah Gollust, and Toben Nelson are receiving two-year grants to conduct projects aimed at advancing health through tailored solutions or by fostering just and equitable communities.

Additional SPH faculty are also participating in projects as members of other Grand Challenge Research teams, including:

  • John Finnegan Jr., Shared Leadership Lab: Analyzing success factors to address complex societal challenges
  • Rhonda Jones-Webb, Assessing Interventions for Justice and Equity
  • Katy Kohzimannil, Reminders for Readiness: E-communication to support parents in promoting early childhood development
  • Harry Lando, Human rights collaborative and faculty-student human rights laboratory to promote equitable civil society

Keys to preventing cancer: Unlocking barriers to HPV vaccinations in low-income countries

Co-PIs: Nicole E. Basta, Epidemiology & Community Health; Hee Yun Lee, Social Work

This project seeks to identify and minimize barriers that prevent girls from receiving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in low-income settings.  HPV vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective at preventing many infections that can lead to cervical and other kinds of cancer. Many low-income countries are just now making the vaccine available, which is a critical step toward reducing morbidity and mortality caused by HPV-associated cancers. The project is partnering with Uganda, which has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer globally and recently introduced the vaccine nationwide in 2015. The study will assess vaccination uptake, identify those at greatest risk of failing to complete the vaccination series, and assess the feasibility of developing interventions to increase HPV vaccination. The researchers will also leverage partnerships to develop international ethics case studies and to make available real-world datasets that can help students gain experience in understanding diverse perspectives on public health and ethics. The research is designed to develop tailored solutions that can advance preventative efforts through increased vaccination, and ultimately, improve health among vulnerable populations.

Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative: Transforming health and advancing equity

Co-PIs: Ellen Demerath, Epidemiology & Community Health; Pamala Jacobson, Experimental & Clinical Pharmacology; Kingshuk Sinha, Supply Chain & Operations; Susan M. Wolf, Law, Medicine & Public Policy

The Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative (MPMC) uses modern technologies —  including genomics, informatics, bioengineering, analysis of environmental exposures, and behavioral sciences — to tailor health care to the challenges facing individuals and their communities. MPMC is emphasizing partnering across the state of Minnesota with citizens, patients, and health care providers to understand and effectively address major health problems. The initiative will create a living laboratory, starting with demonstration projects on Alzheimer’s disease, lung cancer, and depression. All three are diseases whose incidence, burden, and mortality rates reveal disturbing health disparities. This focus will enable MPMC to leverage University research strengths across many disciplines and to engage with partners in the health industry and Minnesota’s underserved communities. Together, they can create affordable, mobile tools to speed research, better deliver health information, and advance health for all.

Understanding barriers to health equity

Co-PIs: Sarah Gollust, Health Policy & Management; Joanne Miller, Political Science

This project examines the political and psychological factors that impede the political will to act to foster just and equitable communities. In particular, Gollust will use survey research methods to examine what beliefs among the public — particularly beliefs in misinformation and conspiracy theories — lead to decreased support for policies to combat inequity. The key premise of this work is that misinformation and conspiracy theories (about inequality in general and health inequality in particular) can lead to polarization and a policy discourse that emphasizes group separation at the expense of discourse about community-building.

Toward a Minnesota model for brain health in youth sports

Co-PIs: Toben F. Nelson, Epidemiology & Community Health; Jessica Brown, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences; Bharathi Jagadeesan, Radiology; Christophe Lenglet, Radiology; Moira Novak, Athletics; Francis Shen, Law


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