BY TINA SHELTON – University of Hawaii at Manoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) has received major new funding for community-based research designed to improve the health of Hawaii’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 Hawaii as one of six regions in the United States 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 Hawaii 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 Manoa, “Hawaii 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 Hawaii 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 Manoa 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 Hawaii) 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 Hawaii: 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 Hawaii 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 Hawaii’s citizens.

Tina Shelton is communications director for the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine.

The John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), named for a visionary governor, was established in 1965 and has trained more than 4,500 medical doctors through its MD or residency program. Half of Hawaii’s practicing physicians are graduates of JABSOM or its Hawaii Residency Programs. JABSOM also trains Public Health professionals. More than 3,500 MPH, MS, DrPH and PhD degrees have been awarded from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. In 2010, JABSOM’s programs in Geriatric and Rural Medicine ranked in the United State’s Top 25 medical programs, according to U.S. News & World Report. For more information about JABSOM, visit http://jabsom.hawaii.edu.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa serves approximately 20,000 students pursuing more than 225 different degrees. Coming from every Hawaiian island, every state in the nation, and more than 100 countries, UH Manoa students matriculate in an enriching environment for the global exchange of ideas. For more information, visit http://manoa.hawaii.edu

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