UMKC School of Medicine Ranks Among the Nation’s Best

The UMKC School of Medicine was the highest-ranked medical school in Missouri for Primary Care in the 2023 graduate school rankings by U.S. News & World Report.

UMKC’s ranking of no. 52 in the nation was up 12 places from last year’s rankings. Other Missouri medical schools that made the rankings included Washington University and Saint Louis University, tied at no. 56; and the University of Missouri-Columbia, no. 67.

The school of medicine also ranked 29th among schools with the most graduate physicians practicing in medically underserved areas. It also ranked 85th for research medical schools, up three spots from a year ago.

The 2023 rankings list was released March 29.

“The UMKC School of Medicine opened its doors more than 50 years ago on our Health Sciences District campus with a commitment to serve the people of Missouri,” said Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., dean of the UMKC School of Medicine. “We are leading the way as we provide the highest quality programs to educate our next generation of outstanding health care professionals and provide the highest quality of care to our community and beyond.”

Jackson noted that the UMKC medical program is built on the enduring vision of Dr. E. Grey Dimond. Students experience an innovative curriculum, care for patients in clinical settings from day one, and learn in small teams led by docent physician mentors, who emphasize a humanistic approach to medicine. And now UMKC’s model takes place not only on the Kansas City campus but in St. Joseph, Missouri, serving a more rural population.

Earlier this year, in its annual ranking of online graduate programs, U.S. News ranked the online graduate nursing program at the UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies among the nation’s top 50 for the tenth consecutive year.

School of Medicine announces Student Research Summit winners

UMKC students presented 46 posters during the 2022 Health Sciences Student Research Summit.

The annual UMKC Health Sciences Student Research Summit returned to an in-person event on March 2 at the UMKC Student Union after two years as a virtual event. Students from the schools of medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, biological and chemical sciences, and computing and engineering presented 46 research posters.

Four students from the School of Medicine and one each from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences and the School of Pharmacy received awards for their presentations.

In the undergraduate division, third-year medical students took the top two awards. Suman Manek won first place in poster presentations. Nikitha Damisetty placed second and second-year med student Cooper Bassham placed third.

Fifth-year medical student Joseph Bean placed first in the graduate division. Jon Bell, from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences was second, and sixth-year medical student Nicholas Yeisley placed third with his presentation.

A panel of faculty judges selected the top presentations.

The summit promotes collaborations across disciplines and schools to produce economic, health, education and quality of life benefits for the Kansas City community in a forum that brings the UMKC health sciences community together to highlight student research.

2022 UMKC Health Sciences Student Research Summit

Top Scoring Posters and Presentations

1st Place – Suman Manek BA/MD Student: Multivariate Prognostic Biomarkers of Covid-19: The Relationship Between Patient Demographics and Presenting Signs and Symptoms.
Mentor: Dr Wail Hassan, School of Medicine

2nd Place – Nikitha Damisetty, BA/MD Student: Modulating Glucocorticoid Function In-Utero to Reduce Complications of Pre-Term Birth.
Mentor: Dr. Paula Monaghan-Nichols, School of Medicine

3rd Place – Cooper Bassham, BA/MD Student: Glucocorticoid and Cannabinoid Signaling Interactions: Implications for Neural Stem Cells.
Mentor: Dr. Paula Monaghan-Nichols, School of Medicine

Winners by Category

Undergraduate Posters

1st Place – Suman Manek BA/MD Student: Multivariate Prognostic Biomarkers of Covid-19: The Relationship Between Patient Demographics and Presenting Signs and Symptoms.
Mentor: Dr Wail Hassan, School of Medicine

2nd Place – Nikitha Damisetti, BA/MD Student: Modulating Glucocorticoid Function In-Utero to Reduce Complications of Pre-Term Birth.
Mentor: Dr. Paula Monaghan-Nichols, School of Medicine

3rd Place – Cooper Bassham, BA/MD Student: Glucocorticoid and Cannabinoid Signaling Interactions: Implications for Neural Stem Cells.
Mentor: Dr. Paula Monaghan-Nichols, School of Medicine

Graduate Posters

1st Place – Joseph Bean, BA/MD Student: Active Targeting of Glioblastoma Through Phage Display.
Mentor: Dr. Kun Cheng, School of Pharmacy

2nd Place – Jon Bell, PhD Student: Foxg1a is Required for Hair Cell Development and Regeneration in the Zebrafish Lateral Line.
Mentor: Dr. Hilary McGraw, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

3rd Place – Nicholas Yeisley, MD Student: Characterizing Social Determinants of Health of TMC ED Patients with Chronic Disease.
Mentor: Dr. Stephanie Ellison, School of Medicine, University Health

School of Medicine’s Peter Koulen honored for achievements, advocacy in vision research

Koulen, Peter
Peter Koulen, Ph.D.

The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) has recognized Peter Koulen, Ph.D., director of basic research at the UMKC School of Medicine’s Vision Research Center, with a major honor, its 2021 Achievements in Eye and Vision Advocacy Award.

ARVO is the largest eye and vision research organization in the world. As part of its annual Advocacy Awards, the Achievements in Eye and Vision Advocacy Award recognizes members who have dedicated the core of their careers to advancing eye and vision research.

Koulen, a professor of ophthalmology and biomedical sciences, is the School of Medicine’s Felix and Carmen Sabates Missouri Endowed Chair in Vision Research. He is an internationally recognized expert in biophysics, biochemistry and physiology of nerve cells with more than 50 extramural grants totaling more than $15 million. His focus on the retina as part of the central nervous system has resulted in peer-reviewed publications in more than 100 prestigious journals. He has also received three patents.

Koulen said the award from ARVO is an “amazing honor” that underscores the importance of his research efforts.

“The many opportunities ARVO has afforded me during my professional career taught me early on that service and giving back are not just integral to research, but are the key ingredients to growing research programs and maximizing their impact,” he said. “The award will also serve as a constant reminder to me that the important work of advocating and providing outreach opportunities for eye and vision research is never done.”

Koulen is a review panel member for national and international funding agencies including the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institutes of Health. While chair of ARVO’s Advocacy and Outreach Committee, Koulen participated in Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill to discuss the importance of increasing funding for the NIH and the National Eye Institute.

This is the latest major award Koulen has received for his research at UMKC. The university Board of Trustees also honored Koulen in 2020 with its Trustees’ Faculty Fellow Award given to an established faculty member for a nationally and internationally recognized record of research and creative achievements at UMKC.

SOM researcher receives NIH grant to study treatment for chronic lung disease

UMKC School of Medicine researcher Paula Monaghan Nichols, Ph.D., has received a $867,000 National Institutes of Health grant to look into a treatment that minimizes neurological side effects for a chronic lung disease that affects a significant number of premature babies.

The project is part of a multi-principle investigator initiated proposal between Monaghan Nichols, Dr. Venkatesh Sampath from Children’s Mercy Hospital Kansas City, and Dr. Donald DeFranco at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pennsylvania, that totals more than $3 million in NIH funding over a 5-year period.

The research will explore the use of Ciclesonide (CIC), an inhaled steroid currently used to treat asthma, as an alternate therapy for bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). BDP causes tissue damage in the tiny air sacs of the lung leading to severe respiratory distress. It is often the result premature birth and mechanical oxygen ventilation. The disease touches nearly seven of 10 infants born before 28 weeks of gestation. In the United States, that is an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 babies a year.

There is currently no cure for BPD but clinical treatments to limit inflammation and the progression of BPD include long-acting synthetic drugs such as dexamethasone. Those drugs, however, also come with a significant risk of adverse effects on a child’s systemic growth and neurodevelopment that can lead to long-lasting changes in brain structure and function.

Monaghan Nichols, associate dean for research, professor and chair of Biomedical Sciences, said infants that acquire BPD face significant mortality rates. Survivors often have recurrent hospital visits, need for respiratory therapies and persistent limitations in pulmonary function.

“Therefore, there remains a need for a pharmacotherapy for BPD in neonates that will have beneficial anti-inflammatory and lung maturation effects, but limited adverse neurological side effects,” Monaghan Nichols said.

Preliminary studies have found that Ciclesonide, even with intermittent doses, can suppress acute lung inflammation with limited neurological alterations in rat models.

“Given the established safety of CIC in very young children, the clinical translation of our proposed studies to human neonates could be expedited, particularly given the limited, safe and effective therapeutic options available for treating or preventing BPD in susceptible premature infants,” Monaghan Nichols said.

Medicine students make strong showing in annual Health Sciences Student Research Summit

Health Sciences Student Research SummitThe UMKC School of Medicine made a strong showing with 10 students among the winners in the 10th annual UMKC Health Sciences Student Research Summit. For the second year in a row, the event that takes place each May was held in a week-long virtual, online format.

Students from the schools of medicine, pharmacy and biological and chemical sciences shared their research with 20 PowerPoint and oral presentations and 31 poster presentation during the week. More than 50 students participated in this year’s event.

Caroline Olson won first place with her oral PowerPoint presentation in the graduate division for fifth- and sixth-year medical students, master’s degree and Pharm.D. students and medical residents. Sejla Turnadzic and Karina Shah tied for third place for poster presentations.

In the undergraduate division for first-year through fourth-year medicine and biological and chemical sciences students, Parth Patel and Rohan Ahuja tied for first place in poster presentations. Siddarth Balaji was the first-place winner for oral PowerPoint presentation. Anika Mittal place second and Ahuja was third in poster presentations. Josephine Nwanka and Anthony Le tied for second and Fahad Qureshi was third in oral PowerPoint presentations.

The summit promotes collaborations across disciplines and schools to produce economic, health, education and quality of life benefits for the Kansas City community in a forum that brings the UMKC health sciences community together to highlight student research.

A panel of judges from the School of Medicine, School of Pharmacy and Children’s Mercy Kansas City hospital selected the top three in each category.

2021 Health Sciences Student Research Summit

Graduate Clinical Poster Presentations

(BA/MD and MD Years 5 and 6 medical students, master’s students, Pharm.D. students and medical residents)

1st Place: Nitish R. Mishra, School of Pharmacy. Method Development of Stable Isotope-Labeled Marfey’s Reagent Derivatized Physiological Amino Acids Stereoisomers Using LCMS 9030 Q-ToF. Authors: Nitish R. Mishra, Amar Deep Sharma and William G. Gutheil. Mentor: William G. Gutheil

2nd Place: Jordan Frangello, School of Pharmacy. Impact of a Pharmacist-led Preventative Screening Intervention During Comprehensive Medication Reviews. Authors: Jordan Frangello, Yifei Liu and Chad Cadwell. Mentor: Yifei Liu

3rd Place Tie: Sejla Turnadzic, School of Medicine. Influence of Racial Disparities on Length of Stay in Hospital in Patients with Cerebral Venous Thrombosis. Authors: Leslie Shang, Sadhika Jagannathan, Sejla Turnadzic, Divya Jain, Monica Gaddis, Jean-Baptiste Le Pichon. Mentor: Jean-Baptiste Le Pichon

3rd Place Tie: Karina Shah, School of Medicine. The Impact of COVID-19 on the Clinical Component of the Surgical Clerkship. Authors: Karina Shah, Donya Jahandar, Christopher Veit, Jennifer Quaintance and Michael Moncure. Mentor: Michael Moncure

Graduate Oral PowerPoint Presentations

(BA/MD and MD Years 5 and 6 medical students, master’s students, Pharm.D. students and medical residents)

1st Place: Caroline Olson, School of Medicine. Systemic Fat Embolism-Induced Accumulation of Fat Droplets in the Rat Retina. Authors: Caroline G. Olson, Landon Rohowetz, M.D., and Peter Koulen, Ph.D. Mentor: Peter Koulen

2nd Place: Shelby Brown, School of Biological and Computer Sciences. Phase separation of both a plant virus movement protein and cellular factors support virus-host interactions. Authors: Shelby Brown and Jared May. Mentor: Jared May

3rd Place: Nitish R. Mishra, School of Pharmacy. Application of LCMS 9030 Q-ToF in Biomarkers Analysis for Pre-term vs. Term Delivery Patients. Authors: Nitish R. Mishra, Donald DeFranco, Paula Monaghan-Nichols and William G. Gutheil. Mentor: William G. Gutheil

Undergraduate Poster Presentations

(BA/MD and MD Years 1 to 4 medical students, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences students)

1st Place Tie: Parth Patel, School of Medicine. Predicting Recurrent Coarctation of the Aorta in Infants with Single Ventricle Heart Disease Using Home Monitoring Data. Authors: Parth S. Patel, Shil Shah, Keith Feldman, Lori A. Erickson, Amy Ricketts, Hayley Hancock and Ryan A. Romans. Mentor: Ryan Romans

1st Place Tie: Rohan Ahuja, School of Medicine. Intracellular calcium changes in intact mouse heart mediated by Fibroblast Growth Factor 23 – implications for chronic kidney disease. Authors: Rohan Ahuja, Shaan Patel, Nabeel Rasheed, Derek Wang, Julian A. Vallejo and Michael J. Wacker. Mentor: Michael Wacker

2nd Place: Anika Mittal, School of Medicine. Vascular Inflammation in the Brain Following Fat Emboli. Authors: Anika Mittal, Fahad Qureshi, Suban Burale, Neerupma Silswal, Alan Poisner, Agostino Molteni and Paula Monaghan Nichols. Mentor: Paula Monaghan Nichols

3rd Place: Rohan Ahuja, School of Medicine. Absence of Cardiac Immune Pathology in a Rat Model of Fat Embolism Syndrome. Authors: VanDillen A, VanDillen M, Hamidpour S, MateescuV, SilswalN, Wacker M, Patel S, Vallejo J, Ahuja R, Monaghan Nichols AP, SalzmanG, Poisner A, Molteni A. Mentor: Michael Wacker

Undergraduate Oral PowerPoint Presentations

(BA/MD and MD Years 1 to 4 Medical students, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences students)

1st Place: Siddharth Balaji, School of Medicine. Comparing Usage of FDA 510(k) and Premarket Approval Pathways within Orthopaedics to Other Specialties. Authors: Siddharth Balaji and Jonathan Dubin. Author: Jonathan Dubin

2nd Place Tie: Josephine Nwankwo, School of Medicine. Increasing Representation of Black Women in Orthopedics Starts with Medical Students. Authors: Josephine Nwankwo and Ali Khan. Mentor: Dr. Ali Khan

2nd Place Tie: Anthony Le, School of Medicine. Patient Perception of Paralysis-Inducing Spinal Cord Injury Through Twitter and Instagram. Avi Gajjar, Anthony Huy Dinh Le, Rachel C Jacobs and Nitin Agarwal. Mentor: Avi Gajjar

3rd Place: Fahad Qureshi, School of Medicine. Social Determinants for Explaining Disparities in COVID-19 Rates: A Population Analysis From 10 Large Metropolitan Areas. Authors: Aarya Ramprasad, Fahad Qureshi, Bridgette L. Jones and Brian R. Lee. Mentor: Bridgette Jones

Grant Helps Take the Lead Out of KC Homes

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded $700,000 to the University of Missouri-Kansas City to explore and evaluate best practices for identifying and removing lead paint hazards from Kansas City homes.

The grant is in partnership with the Kansas City, Missouri Health Department’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program and Lead Safe KC Project, which helps remove lead paint hazards in homes of families with young children; and Children’s Mercy Environmental Health Program, which has assessed more than 1,400 homes for environmental risks and supports allergen research.

Homes that were built before 1978 might contain lead paint, which could put residents, especially young children and pregnant women, at risk for lead poisoning. Lead poisoning can cause speech delays, brain damage and other health effects.

Using Kansas City and Children’s Mercy data, the UMKC Center for Economic Information will perform a comparative impact analysis of the specific lead hazard control treatments used in the intervention in terms of blood-lead levels and social costs.

“The goal will be to develop a data-driven quality improvement evaluation model that HUD-sponsored lead-hazard control programs will be able to use in the management and performance evaluation of their own programs,” said Doug Bowles, Ph.D., director of the UMKC Center for Economic Information, co-principal investigator on the grant.

“An additional goal will be to develop a data-driven, housing-based index that lead-hazard control programs can use to select the homes most in need of lead-based hazard remediation,” said Steve Simon, Ph.D., of the School of Medicine and co-principal investigator on the grant.

The study will examine data from the Kansas City Health Department, comparing lead poisoning information with home repair strategies to determine the most effective, sustainable and cost-efficient methods of protecting families.

SOM research office taking applications for SPiRe Grant

The School of Medicine Office of Research is seeking applications for the Sarah Morrison Pilot Research Fund (SPiRe), an internal grant for clinical and basic scientists. Application deadline is noon, March 1.

The grant provides support to develop preliminary data or pursue high-risk innovative research that will enable submission of highly competitive applications to national funding sources.

To be considered, research must either be performed at the School of Medicine or be in collaboration with faculty at the school where at least 50 percent of the research is performed. Tenure-track, tenured, research and clinical faculty are eligible to apply for the grant.

Standard awards are $15,000 to be spent during the course of two years. If a compelling case can be made for additional funding, up to $20,000 may be requested.

Full application guidelines and the application packet are available online.

Questions prior to preparing and submitting applications may be directed to Paula Monaghan-Nichols, associate dean for research, at nicholsap@umkc.edu or 816-235-6663. Questions about applications should be directed to Mark Hecker, director of research administration, at heckerm@umkc.edu or 816-235-6015.

Student Research Program announces Sarah Morrison Award recipients

UMKC School of Medicine Sarah Morrison student research award winners. First row: Anum Ahmed, Rohan Ahuja, Shiva Balasubramanian, Vijay Dimri. Second row: Nikki Gill, Shubhika Jain, Madhavi Murali, Christian Kingeter. Bottom row: Victoria Shi, Xi Wang, Matthew William.

The School of Medicine Student Research Program announced 11 recipients of the 2021 Sarah Morrison Student Research Awards that includes 10 medical students and one graduate student.

Awards of up to $3,000 are presented annually to School of Medicine students as they become involved in and learn about a wide variety of research activities based on their interests. The research may be in the basic sciences or in clinical medicine.

Students may develop their own hypothesis and work plan or work on an established research project with their mentor. Winners of the awards are expected to present the results of the research at a School of Medicine student research event such as the UMKC Health Sciences Student Research Summit or a similar venue as recommended by Research Administration.

More than 130 students have received Sarah Morrison awards since the program began in 2013 with more than $270,000 of financial support provided to conduct research projects at the School of Medicine.

All UMKC School of Medicine students with the exception of first-year students are eligible to receive a Sarah Morrison award through the school’s Office of Research and Administration. Second-year medical students must have  approval from the Student Research Committee.

Students interested in receiving a Sarah Morrison award must apply by noon on Nov. 15 to be considered. Applications must include a proposal protocol, budget, letters of reference, transcripts and curriculum vitae of the student. For complete application information, visit the student research website.

Award winners are selected by a panel of more than 25 School of Medicine faculty who review applications for the quality of the proposed research and outcomes, completion of application materials, a detailed project budget and academic achievement.

2021 Sarah Morrison Research Awards
(Recipient / Faculty Mentor / Project Title)

  • Anum Ahmed, MS 4 / Dr. Karl Kador, assistant professor, biomedical sciences / The effect of substrate stiffness on retinal ganglion cell neurite outgrowth
  • Rohan Ahuja, MS 4 / Dr. Michael Wacker, associate professor, vice-chair biomedical science / The effect of trimethylamine N-oxide on epiflourescent calcium imaging of mouse atria
  • Shiva Balasubramanian, MS 3 / Dr. Jignesh Shah, assistant professor of medicine and docent / Radical prostatectomy readmissions: causes, risk factors, national rates, and costs
  • Vijay Dimri, MS 3 / Dr. Seung Suk Kang, assistant professor, biomedical sciences / Effect of 4 weeks of transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation on heart rate variability and symptoms in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Nikki Gill, MS 3 / Dr. Paula Nichols, professor, chair biomedical sciences, associate dean research administration / The impact of cannabinoid exposure of glucocorticoid receptor signaling in neural stem cells
  • Shubhika Jain, MS 5 / Dr. Micah Sinclair, assistant professor orthopaedic surgery / Establishing the role of inflammatory markers in the diagnosis and treatment of acute hand infections in the pediatric population
  • Christian Kingeter, MS 5 / Dr. Peter Koulen, professor, director of basic research, Vision Research Center / Does an immune response to viral infection put patients on higher risk for developing age-related macular degeneration? Development of novel clinical diagnostic tools to identify at-risk patients
  • Madhavi Murali, MS 5 / Dr. Adriane Latz, otolaryngologist, Children’s Mercy Kansas City / Immediate recovery room hypoxemia after tympanostomy tube placement in children with PDC
  • Victoria Shi, MS 3 / Dr. Paula Nichols, professor, chair biomedical sciences, associate dean research administration / Transcriptome analysis of response to glucocorticoid treatment for bronchopulmonary dysplasia
  • Xi Wang, graduate student / Dr. Jenifer Allsworth, associate professor, biomedical and health informatics / Natural language processing of gestational diabetes mellitus management documentation from electronic health records
  • Matthew William, MS 3 / Dr. Xiang-Ping Chu, professor of biomedical sciences / Modulation of heteromeric ASIC1b/3 channels by Zinc

 

 

 

UMKC Vision Research Center receives NIH award to promote diversity in health-related research as part of ongoing glaucoma studies

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded the UMKC Vision Research Center a new $120,399 grant that promotes the training of researchers from diverse backgrounds as part of ongoing research projects to develop novel glaucoma therapies.

Funded through the NIH’s National Eye Institute (NEI), the new funding is part of a larger NIH initiative to enhance the diversity of the research workforce. It will aid in recruiting and supporting students, postdoctorates and eligible investigators from diverse backgrounds including those from racial and ethnic groups that have been shown to be underrepresented in health-related research.

“We are pleased to receive this support from the NIH,” said Peter Koulen, Ph.D., director of the Vision Research Center. “This funding is a substantial contribution to our mission to provide a more diverse workforce in biomedicine and the overall mission to discover new and improved treatments and therapies for vision health world-wide.”

The funding is part of Koulen’s NEI-supported program exploring novel therapeutic strategies to preserve the viability and function of the nerve cells of the retina affected by glaucoma. The research targets a novel mechanism of nerve cell protection utilizing intracellular calcium signaling as a drug target to treat degeneration of nerve cells in glaucoma.

“The new award is part of research that will allow us to generate data needed for the development of novel glaucoma drugs to complement existing therapies targeting abnormally high pressure in the eye,” Koulen said. Koulen and his team at the Vision Research Center received a $1.16 million NIH grant earlier this year to investigate a mechanism that allows nerve cells to communicate effectively and could lead to the development of such new treatments for glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a major cause of irreversible vision loss and blindness in the United States and worldwide. The disease causes degeneration of the retina and optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. Preventing such degeneration and the death of affected cells is currently the only feasible way to prevent vision loss due to glaucoma.

In the past year, Koulen has won two other major NIH research grants. His current study of new chemical compounds to treat and prevent age-related macular degeneration received a $1.16 million grant. He is also part of an innovative $1.5 million project exploring a novel tissue-preservation method that could help meet far-reaching clinical needs in ophthalmology and other fields of medicine

This glaucoma research will focus on alternative strategies directly targeting the damaging effects of the disease on the retina and optic nerve.

“Just like elevated blood pressure predisposes patients to stroke, high pressure inside the eye is a predisposing factor for glaucoma,” Koulen said. “There are currently several therapies available to patients to reduce abnormally high eye pressure, but when these therapies fail or cease to be effective, glaucoma and the accompanying vision loss continue to progress.”

Koulen’s project, including the new award to promote diversity in health-related research, will determine how to boost the cell-to-cell communication that retinal nerve cells use to defend themselves from disease and injury. The hope is this will protect these cells from the damaging effects of glaucoma.

If successful, Koulen’s research will result in new drug candidates that would contribute to “neuroprotection” as a strategy to treat and prevent glaucoma.

New therapies could potentially act in concert with current eye pressure lowering drugs. Other areas of medicine, such as cancer treatment, have effectively employed the concept of using complementary drug action in combination therapies.

Grant will help Black churches fight COVID-19

Berkley-Patton, JanetteCOVID-19 has infected, hospitalized and killed Black Americans at a higher rate compared with whites. As it has with other health disparities, the University of Missouri-Kansas City is going to partner with churches to fight this one. The National Institutes of Health has awarded UMKC a two-year, $1.9 million grant to do so as part of its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics-Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) initiative.

“By working with 16 churches, which are trusted institutions in the African American community, we will greatly expand COVID-19 testing opportunities and access to care in low-income areas of Kansas City,” said Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., principal investigator of the grant, director of the UMKC Health Equity Institute and a professor at the School of Medicine. “This RADx-UP grant will help people who probably never would have gotten tested get the support they need.”

The team of investigators on the grant are from UMKC, Children’s Mercy, University of Kansas Medical Center, University of Massachusetts, University of California-San Francisco and Johns Hopkins University. In addition to churches and their leaders and members, they will work in partnership with Calvary Community Outreach Network and the Kansas City Health Department for testing, contact tracing and linkage to care services.

“By working with 16 churches, which are trusted institutions in the African American community, we will greatly expand COVID-19 testing opportunities and access to care in low-income areas of Kansas City. This RADx-UP grant will help people who probably never would have gotten tested get the support they need.” – Jannette Berkley-Patton

“One of our aims with the grant is to not only expand testing but to also help get the community prepared for the vaccine,” said Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., an investigator of the grant, dean of the UMKC School of Medicine and an infectious disease expert at Children’s Mercy. “Vaccine confidence relies on trust and transparent communication of vaccine science and safety. The mistrust among people of color about the COVID-19 vaccine stems back toward experience in other research impacting this population, namely the Tuskegee trials in 1932 to study syphilis where Black males were not provided treatment.”

Key social determinants contribute to the disparities for Blacks and COVID-19 including essential public-facing jobs, cultural norms like medical and contact tracing mistrust and limited access to health care. African Americans also have a high burden of chronic health conditions including obesity, diabetes and heart disease, which put them at an increased risk for COVID-19.

Studies, including UMKC investigations led by Berkley-Patton, have shown that community-engaged research with African American churches has led to health screening uptake for HIV and STD testing and reducing risks for diabetes. Yet, no proven COVID-19 testing interventions exist for African American churches, which have wide reach and influence in their communities, high attendance rates and supportive health and social services for community members.

At churches, the grant aims to reach people through sermons, testimonials, church bulletins, and text messages. This also includes faith leaders promoting testing – and getting tested in front of their congregations – so that people can actually see what the testing process looks like.

To date, Berkley-Patton’s work has been supported by more than $12 million in federal grants over the past 14 years. The community-engaged research she has conducted in partnership with faith communities has benefited people in the Kansas City area as well as Alabama and Jamaica.

“At UMKC, we fight racial inequity at all levels, and that includes life-saving health care at our public urban research university,” said UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal. “We are proud of the work Dr. Berkley-Patton is leading through proven strategies at places of worship. We know this team of investigators and their partners will help keep our community safer from COVID-19.”