Winston Kong holds young Li`ulani Martin, being examined by Dr. Kapua Medeiros, JABSOM Class of 2010
UH Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) has received major new funding for community-based research designed to improve the health of Hawai‘i’s people who suffer from disproportionately higher rates of serious illnesses and worse health outcomes from conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cancer and dementia.
The $12.6-million grant from the National Institutes of Health establishes Hawai‘i as one of six regions in the U.S. where health disparities among minorities will take center stage. Innovative discoveries will be coordinated to target specific health problems. Discoveries will be rapidly transferred into real-life treatment settings where people receive care.
Lead investigator for the grant is Dr. Jerris Hedges, Dean of JABSOM. Dr. Hedges notes that “the grant builds upon years of successful research at the medical school by scientists in its Department of Native Hawaiian Health and numerous other departments and centers. These scientists have identified the challenges of addressing the health disparities of Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders in our multi-cultural and multi-ethnic setting.”
Co-directors are pediatrician Dr. Bruce Shiramizu of the Hawai‘i Center for AIDS and cardiologist Dr. Todd Seto of The Queen’s Medical Center. Both physicians are JABSOM faculty. “Understanding and addressing these health outcome disparities in our multicultural setting will help our nation as a whole answer why some diseases are more prevalent in minority populations, and what can be done to reduce the burden of these diseases,” said Dr. Shiramizu. “Involving the communities into these research efforts will be vital to the grant’s success,” added Dr. Seto, who has himself successfully introduced programs into high-risk communities.
Noted Dr. Virginia Hinshaw, Chancellor of UH Mānoa, “Hawai‘i has a number of reasons to be very excited about this important new endeavor. This funding acknowledges the incredible strides that the medical school and its health partners have made to excel in clinical care and research. In addition, this outcome reflects the value of the investment Hawai‘i has made in modern research facilities and skilled faculty at the medical school.”
The new program will bring together experts and leaders from multiple disciplines—medicine, nursing, engineering, social sciences, public health, law, natural sciences, information technology, pharmacy, and cancer research—throughout the UH Mānoa and Hilo campuses, who will guide and direct the academic careers of scientists and investigators at all levels. It will also integrate successful programs existing within the medical school’s partner teaching hospitals (the major hospitals serving the communities in Hawai‘i) and collaborate with neighborhood health clinics, community groups, health plans, and health policy leaders.
The focus is on six health disparities impacting Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Asians, and other populations in Hawai‘i: 1) Cardiovascular health; 2) Respiratory health; 3) Nutritional and metabolic health; 4) Cancer health (prevention, epidemiology, treatment, drug discovery); 5) Perinatal, growth and developmental health; and 6) Aging and neurocognitive health (the ability to think and reason).
The UH medical school will begin working quickly to establish a single administrative infrastructure to consolidate and enhance existing resources, foster collaborations, and support investigators through education, training and career development. Some resources will be drawn from similar NIH-funded sites with overlapping research needs and interests. As swiftly as possible, this network of professionals will begin working with leaders in those communities in Hawai’i where health disparities are highest. The grant will permit both research and treatment to be carried out where impacted people live and work, to improve the health of Hawai‘i’s citizens.