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NIU health researchers score in collaborative grant funding

October 16, 2015

medical symbolCollaboration is the name of the game in modern health research.

Faculty in the School of Nursing and Health Studies (NUHS) are not only playing that game on a national level but they’re also winning.

Over the last year, federal funding agencies have awarded nearly $20 million to four such collaborative projects, two led by NUHS researchers and two by researchers at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine with NIU faculty and staff playing major roles.

NIU’s share of these projects will total more than $1.1 million.

Lucy Bilaver, an assistant professor in the NUHS Public Health and Health Education programs, received nearly $100,000 from the Health Resources and Services Administration for a research study that focuses on racial and ethnic disparities in autism diagnosis and the use of educational therapy.

Bilaver’s partners on the project include the Chapin Hall research center at the University of Chicago and David Mandell. Mandell, who served as Bilaver’s mentor in the NIU PI Academy, is associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

“My research in autism has focused on the services used by children after they are diagnosed,” Bilaver said. “Because there is no one treatment plan for autism, and services are provided in both the education and health care systems, parents must navigate a complex set of options.”

She hopes to learn the extent to which racial and ethnic disparities in autism service use is impacted by the geographic distribution of services.

Lucy Bilaver

Lucy Bilaver

“Prior research has focused on race or geography but few studies have been able to study the contribution of both,” she said.

“Providing evidence-based interventions to children with autism can ensure that this growing number of children achieve their maximum potential to lead independent, fulfilled lives in adulthood,” she added. “Our study will shed light on the extent to which some groups of children are not receiving equal access to these services and identify important modifiable geographic characteristics that can help address disparities.”

As was recently reported in NIU Today, Wendy Bostwick, an associate professor in the NUHS Public Health and Health Education programs, led a collaboration with colleagues from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the State University of New York at Buffalo to land the first-ever award from the National Institutes of Health to study health issues targeting bisexual women.

The award Bostwick received is called an R21, which is a grant reserved for novel, high risk, high reward research that is likely to lead to breakthroughs in our understanding of health conditions and their treatment.

Over the next two years, Bostwick and her team will receive more than $300,000 to study how microagressions operate as stressors in the lives of bisexual women and how these might be linked to adverse health outcomes for these women.

Late last year, Christina Papadimitriou, an associate professor in NUHS Nursing program, was awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health as part of a large, five-year, $4.3 million collaborative research and training grant with researchers at the Feinberg School of Medicine and UIC.

Papadimitriou’s is one of four research projects that make up the larger grant.

Her study will develop and test the feasibility, acceptability and effectiveness of using peer health navigators to assist newly disabled patients in reestablishing their lives in the community after their hospitalization while managing the confusing network of outpatient medical treatment.

It acknowledges that health care services for newly disabled patients – individuals with spinal cord injuries, for example – can be very complex. Meanwhile, it posits that peers – in this case, individuals with disabilities who have been through this process before – can effectively help new patients navigate this complex web of providers and services and, in so doing, improve their quality of life and reduce their medical costs.

Stethescope and medical record on a computer keyboardThe fourth and largest of these recent collaborations is a project funded by the Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ) to understand whether electronic health records systems can be used as the basis for quality improvement strategies intended to reduce heart health risk in patients.

AHRQ is providing $14.7 million to a collaboration led by Northwestern, but stretching from northern Indiana to central Wisconsin, and including NIU and the northern Illinois region.

NIU will use staff from its regional Health Extension Center to reach out to small health care clinics and help them use their electronic medical records systems as a tool to identify patients in need of more focused heart health attention and providing them with additional preventive services.

James Ciesla, professor in the NUHS Public Health and Health Education programs and associate dean for research in the College of Health and Human Sciences, will oversee the NIU portion of the project.

David Stone, associate professor in the Public Health and Health Education programs and associate vice president for strategic innovation and planning, will serve as a member of the collaborative research team.

“For many years, I’ve been interested in understanding how the way health care is provided – that is, what happens in hospitals and medical practices as organizations – affects health and well-being,” Ciesla said.

“We hope to learn how the information in electronic health records – the electronic version of patient charts – can be used to systematically improve the quality and outcomes of health care,” he added. “Understanding how to improve health care practice patterns has the potential to impact the health care and health of the entire U.S. population.”